Questions to ask your doctor
If you have recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia, there are a number of questions you should make sure you ask your doctor or healthcare professional. These include:
- What are the treatment options? Medication, while effective in the majority of cases, is not the only option. Used in conjunction with medication, supplemental therapies such as psychological or cognitive therapy, rehabilitation day programs, peer support groups and nutritional supplements have been shown to work1.
- What medication am I getting? Unfortunately, there will probably be no easy answer to this. Medication will depend on the type and severity of the illness. Don’t be surprised if your doctor switches your medication or adjusts the dose frequently – trial and error is really the only way to find the right combination for you2.
- What will the medication do? You need to know which of your symptoms the medication will treat, so you’ll be able to report back on its effectiveness. This will vary depending on whether you are receiving medication to treat passive or active symptoms.
- How quickly will the medication work? Antipsychotic medication can take weeks or months to take full effect. It is designed to make life gradually easier rather than having a huge, sudden effect3.
- What happens if I don’t take my medication? If you don’t take your medication as prescribed, it may increase the risk of hospitalisation4. Your doctor may encourage you to keep a journal that details your symptoms and whether they are improving, and that identifies when you took your medication and how much you took. Ask your doctor if he or she is aware of the Medication Adherence Rating Scale (MARS), which has been developed by Australian researchers to assess whether or not your medicine-taking schedule is appropriate for you.
- What are the side effects of my medication? It is important to understand what to expect from your treatment. Antipsychotic medications have been known to produce unpleasant side effects5. Ask your doctor about possible side effects and how he or she will treat them (this can range from a wait-and-see approach or an adjustment of the dose to a further prescription to treat the side effects). The Schizophrenia Fellowship of NSW website includes an excellent section on schizophrenia medications and their possible side effects. You should also ask whether there are any restrictions or special warnings applying to your medication.
- Will I ever be symptom-free? For some people, the answer may be yes. Other people with schizophrenia find that the medication simply helps their symptoms become manageable6.
- What symptoms indicate I may be heading for a relapse? This is an important question, particularly for carers, as the consumer may not recognise the signs. Relapses are common among people with schizophrenia and often see a return of the original symptoms of the illness. Your doctor will be able to advise you about specific warning signs.
- What should I tell other people about my condition? Deciding who to tell is a personal decision. However, helping educate others about schizophrenia is important. Your doctor can provide advice on who to tell. You may also wish to visit the Federal Government’s disclosure website at http://pubsites.uws.edu.au/ndco/disclosure/index.htm
- Will I be able to do everyday things like work and drive? This may depend on your specific condition, and your doctor will advise you accordingly. General expert opinion is that if you held a job before becoming ill, you are likely to be able to work again at some stage8.
- What else can I do? A key question for carers. Your doctor may have carer-specific literature that will help you both learn about schizophrenia and suggest helpful strategies for caring for a loved one with schizophrenia. Carers may also find the following sites useful:
2, 3 http://helpguide.org/mental/schizophrenia_treatment_support.htm
4 Weiden PJ et al. Psychiatry Serv 2004; 55: 886-91