"People tend to think that happiness in schizophrenia is an oxymoron," says senior author Dr. Dilip V. Jeste, distinguished professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.
"Without discounting the suffering this disease inflicts on people, our study shows that happiness is an attainable goal for at least some schizophrenia patients," he adds. "This means we can help make these individuals' lives happier."
Dr. Jeste's team surveyed 72 schizophrenia outpatients in the San Diego area - all but nine of whom were taking at least one anti-psychotic medication. Just over half of the respondents were residents in assisted-living facilities.
A comparison group was comprised of 64 healthy men and women who did not currently use alcohol or illegal drugs and who had not been diagnosed with dementia or other neurological illnesses.
The mean age for both groups was 50 years.
In the survey, the respondents answered questions on their happiness over the previous week. They were asked to rate statements such as "I was happy" and "I enjoyed life" on a scale from "never or rarely" to "all or most of the time."
The results reveal that about 37% of the schizophrenia patients were happy most or all of the time, compared with about 83% of respondents in the comparison group.
However, about 15% of people in the schizophrenia group reported being rarely or never happy, but no one in the comparison group reported such a low level of happiness.
'Patients' happiness was unrelated to the severity or duration of their illness'
The researchers compared the self-reported happiness of the respondents with other factors including age, gender, education, living situation, medication status, mental health, physical health, cognitive function, stress, attitude toward aging, spirituality, optimism, resilience and personal mastery.
The study - which is published in the journal Schizophrenia Research - suggests that the patients' levels of happiness were unrelated to the severity or duration of their illness, cognitive or physical function, age or education. This is clinically significant because, among healthy adults, all of these factors are associated with a greater sense of well-being.
Lead author Barton W. Palmer, PhD, professor in the UC San Diego Department of Psychiatry summarizes the study's findings:
"People with schizophrenia are clearly less happy than those in the general population at large, but this is not surprising.
What is impressive is that almost 40% of these patients are reporting happiness and that their happiness is associated with positive psychosocial attributes that can be potentially enhanced."