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Cult Med Psychiatry. 2005 Dec;29(4):379-413.

The new paradigm of recovery from schizophrenia: cultural conundrums of improvement without cure.

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Department of Anthropology, Case Western University, Cleveland, Ohio 44106-7125, USA.


This article is a qualitative investigation of the subjective experience of recovery from the perspective of persons living with schizophrenia-related disorders. An NIMH-sponsored ethnographic study of community outpatient clinics was completed for 90 persons taking second-generation antipsychotic medications. Research diagnostic criteria and clinical ratings were obtained in tandem with an anthropologically developed Subjective Experience of Medication Interview (SEMI) that elicits narrative data on everyday life and activities, medication and treatment, management of symptoms, expectations concerning recovery, and stigma. Ethnographic observations from diverse settings (clinics, public transportation, restaurants, homes) were also obtained. The primary findings are that recovery was experienced in relation to low levels of symptoms, the need to take medications to avoid hospitalization or psychotic episodes, and personal agency to struggle against the effects of illness. The majority of participants articulated their sense of illness recovery and expectation that their lives would improve. Improvement and recovery is an incremental, yet definitively discernable subjective process. Several problems were identified as part of this process surrounding cultural conflicts that generate the experience of ambivalence analyzed here as the "paradox of recovery without cure," irreconcilable "catch-22" dilemmas involving sacrifice (e.g., one must be "fat" or be "crazy"), and substantial stigma despite improvement in illness and everyday life experience.

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