Do people with schizophrenia feel empathy?
This is an extremely interesting question. I have recently become very interested in "looking into" schizophrenia - my heart BREAKS for schizophrenics, I cannot help it and there is actually an article about it. It is a neuro scientific study that showed there is a empathy deficit in people with schizophrenia. They are still trying to understand whether or not there is an actual neurological cause or there is an impaired pathway in the mind of a schizophrenic that causes this. This will take a long time to get real answers on, however, the majority of subjects that they tested did have this empathy impairment.
May I play devil's advocate for a moment? Perhaps it has nothing to do with the disease of schizophrenia itself. Perhaps it is a person with a diseased mind who has suddenly become almost "demonic" in the eyes of society. Suddenly, people who were once people are now cursed, evil, diseased. While doctors and nurses might not treat them badly, even families sometimes are "afraid" of their family members, and certainly society is not friendly toward the "dangerous" schizophrenics. I've seen the way people treat those who they THINK are schizophrenics...I think lepers are treated better. I'm not saying that there aren't reasons to be frightened of ANYONE who is in a psychotic state, but a person with a problem is a person with a problem. I've been more comfortable around schizophrenics than I have some drunks. If people treat you like you are something that just crawled out of the cemetery, I would lose my concern too, and I don't have a mind that is being wrecked by a terrible disease. Just a thought.
There is evidence - scientific - that many schizophrenics do not possess empathy, that is not saying all of them of course. I have read some articles on a personal level, people in mental health forums, who said that they believed once they were receiving treatment for their schizophrenia they were able to "regain" their empathy. I would love to be able to answer your question with one definitive answer, but I don't think that there is one. I think it comes down to the people who have it. The same as every other mental illness and every other person.
Allow me to re-write the question. "Do people with schizophrenia feel empathy when they are in the midst of a serious or severe episode of symptoms?" People with schizophrenia have a wide range of how they experience psychotic symptoms (hallucinations, delusions, confused or impaired thought process). Most people, after they begin to experience these symptoms, experience symptoms episodically, anywhere from a few hours to weeks at a time. A few have symptoms continually. During periods of symptoms many people are so caught up with their symptoms that they can not focus upon the experience of others, therefore they are to varying degrees unable to experience empathy. Others, with mild psychotic symptoms are able to experience empathy even while they are symptomatic.
Between episodes most people with schizophrenia are able to experience empathy to the same degree that they were able to experience empathy before they were diagnosed.
Lastly, some people with schizophrenia who have had symptoms for some time, and who have been able to achieve some control of their symptoms, due to the depth of their personal struggle may be more able to experience empathy more than before they began to have schizophrenia. This is much the same as anyone who has a serious disability and has been humbled by the experience, and then are able to fully understand what others go through.
As a parent of an adult son with treatment resistant schizophrenia I can say without a doubt empathy does exist at least in my son's case. Prior to his diagnosis he was kind, generous and had a great deal of empathy. He was diagnosed in Feb 2013 and to this day he still has those traits. He's been hospitalized 14 times since his diagnosis. Many of those were for more than a month at a time. The first 2 years he turned to alcohol and it got so bad I thought my son would die. I realized I had to get tough and make decisions that he may not like but now he is conserved and living in a board and care. He's been on his meds steady for almost 2 years. Although he still has constant symptoms and his reality isn't ours he is a very kind, generous and empathetic young man. He knows he is welcome to come home for day or overnight visits but I explained that when he lived with me he didn't do as well as he does now and we don't want to risk going back to that very dark time. His response to that was "mom I know you love me so don't worry about it"
I am schizophrenic and can tell you that it is not true schizophrenics don't feel empathy. I feel empathy more powerfully than the average person. Growing up, I always made sure I had money to give homeless people in Chicago. I have always looked at life from the viewpoint of the other person so as not to hurt others. I think what most people don't understand is that schizophrenia often feels like a battle to keep ones soul from being overcome by the voices that are in their head. I have voices, I call demons, in my head trying to make me believe bad things about people. The way I counter is to choose to see good in people. I tell the voices that people aren't as bad as they say. And then I imagine the actions of others to be working toward good, even if their actions hurt me. I do fear that someday I won't be able to counter the voices. But schizophrenics are often violent and I choose to do all within my power to prevent that from happening. I choose to see good in people and my life is better for it. I also get angry with the energy that makes me feel anger towards people. This protects me from becoming a victim of the disease and the empathy that can accompany it.
Individuals with schizophrenia are capable of experiencing empathy exactly like anyone else. Certain symptoms may interfere with their expression of empathy during a psychotic episode. For example, negative symptoms may include a significant reduction or near absence of emotional displays, communication, and motivation. Individuals experiencing these symptoms may spend most of their time in isolation or fairly disconnected from others. Some call this an "alienation" from others.
Individuals can also become so disorganized and disoriented they are unable to meaningfully communicate or interact with others. In these situations it would also be difficult to interpret empathy. This does not mean they are not experiencing empathy. It definitely does not mean they do not experience just as much empathy when their symptoms are in remission. I will add many individuals with schizophrenia never experience negative symptoms or disorganization. Many will never have their ability to express empathy impacted in any manner.
Thank you for the a2a.
Judging from my sister, I'd say, yes, they most definitely do but they may have problems expressing it and there is less or no empathy when they are deep in an active phase. The perceived lack of empathy during an active phase is in my eyes less because they don't feel empathy and more because they see the whole world with such skewed eyes that they can't see anyone to feel empathy for.
When I was ill and had to have surgery, my sister was very worried and afraid for me but she couldn't properly express it. When I recovered, she felt relieved. Her way of expressing her feelings was, however, so obscure that even I didn't realise it; the psychiatrist had to tell me and show me the signs. When she slipped into her latest active phase, she became convinced that we were (and still are) having a bad fight and so she doesn't want to see me or speak to me anymore. There is no reason anymore for her to feel empathy towards me.