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I am 24 years old and was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 19. I had two episodes of the illness. The first when I was 19 and the second at 21 because I stopped taking my medications after about 6 months.

I have been taking risperdal since my second hospitalization and now I am on Invega. I have been symptom-free for 3 years. Will I ever get off medications? And I also suffer from social phobia, but since I have been taking Invega I don't feel any symptoms of it. Is it possible that it also manages anxiety?

Answered by: Cheryl Corcoran

Social anxiety is very common among individuals who have schizophrenia, and it is quite possible that Invega has treated it. I am glad this has resolved for you.

It is terrific news that you have been symptom-free for 3 years. Really. And given that you had a relapse with hospitalization when you stopped taking your medications before, it is advisable that you continue taking them for now,especially if you are tolerating them with minimal side effects.

As for the question of whether you can ever come off these medications, you can think of this decision as a renewable lease. Each year, you can weigh the risks vs. benefits of taking these medications, and decide, along with your doctor, what you would like to do. Coming off these medications will put you at much greater risk for relapse and rehospitalization, given your history and also the science on relapse.

However, if you do decide nevertheless at some point to stop these medications, you should do a very slow taper in careful collaboration with your psychiatrist. But it may be useful to think of schizophrenia as like diabetes or any chronic illness, where if you manage the illness in terms of medications and habits, you can have a happy and productive life, and work toward achieving your goals and dreams. It is just a pill. You may decide to take it indefinitely if it doesn't cause problematic side effects so that you can stay well.