By Dr Debanjan Banerjee
“It’s only in the mysterious equation of love, that logical reasons can be found.”
(Russell Crowe as ‘John Nash’, BEAUTIFUL MIND, 2001)
This landmark movie on a severe mental disorder has made us believe that mental problems can be treated with love, support and social effort. The protagonist John Nash emerged into a legendary mathematician, while struggling with one of the most disabling mental disorders ever, Schizophrenia.
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Schizophrenia is one of the severe mental disorders, which is often ‘labelled’ in the society. It is one among the most disabling and economically burdening diseases as it mostly affects young adults in the productive age group with chronic course in some. One in every hundred people experiences schizophrenia and men are twice as likely to develop this condition as compared to women. People with this condition have double the risk of death due to suicide than the general population. Along with mental wellbeing, this disorder also affects a person’s social and occupational life. Most of the time, they are isolated or worse, get thrown out of families due to caregiver frustration or poor understanding of illness.
Due to the behaviour changes, many get ‘polarised’ as ‘pagals’ (Hindi for ‘lunatic’) and end up on the streets or resort to addictions. Often, persons with schizophrenia are portrayed as dangerous, violent or psychopathic by the media through movies and Television shows which is ironically just the opposite. A person having schizophrenia is not more dangerous or ‘criminal’ than anyone else, rather they often fall victims to violence, abuse and fraud themselves. They are more likely to harm themselves and are aggressive only when provoked or ridiculed, as suspiciousness can be a major symptom of this illness. Often, the affected person might not have the understanding to avail professional help on his own. This is what makes our awareness about this disease all the more important, contrary to the ‘mysticism’ and ‘Para normalcy’ that it is equated with, in the popular media.
What is schizophrenia?
The term schizophrenia comes from Greek words “schezein” (to split) and “phrenos”(mind), which roughly translates to “splitting of mind”. It intends to describe the separation of daily function from the way a person thinks, speaks and perceives the world. It is in that way, a disorder of the ‘processes of mind and thinking’. People affected often have their own ‘imagined’ world in which they live and believe, detached from reality. It can lead to self-absorption and excessive communication with oneself.
Schizophrenia is not entirely genetic, though presence of illness in the family plays a role.
Symptoms of schizophrenia can be seen in terms of muttering to self (they may hear voices commanding or discussing them, in the absence of any), having false unshakable beliefs that cannot be changed by evidence.
These are termed as ‘hallucinations’ and ‘delusions’ respectively. They may also suffer from suspiciousness (they may feel people are conspiring against them), muddled or disrupted thoughts which can be expressed through incomprehensive speech or unusual behaviour. There can also be another set of symptoms like poor emotional response or expression, poor self-care/personal hygiene, withdrawn behaviour, attention, concentration and memory issues. Sometimes, inappropriate social attitudes and smiling can occur as the ‘sense of social context’ is lost. Research however shows patients of schizophrenia are rarely violent.
How can we help?
Although schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder, it is highly treatable. Specific medications called antipsychotics are used effectively for its treatment. This should be started early, along with psychological counselling that can help an individual suffering from schizophrenia attain complete recovery. More than two-thirds can improve much with proper treatment. Patients need to continue medication and treatment as per their doctors’ advice and stay in regular touch with health care. Contrary to the popular belief, these medicines are NOT ‘addictive drugs’ and DO NOT ‘damage the brain’! Antipsychotics need at least 4 weeks to show their effects and need to be continued long enough for recovery. Research shows that the rate of recurrence of problems is higher, if medicines are stopped suddenly and hence it is vital to have a regular discussion with the treating doctor.
The earlier the treatment starts, the better it is. Besides medication, vocational rehabilitation is vital. Besides reduction of the symptoms of schizophrenia, individuals need to regain their jobs, relationships and daily life activities for a ‘true recovery’. Community acceptance against stigma towards this illness and meaningful social participation of those living with schizophrenia is a must.
What can we do? The Way Forward
Awareness, identification and care are the three main pillars of managing any mental disorder. Community awareness about the early signs of the illness, sensitising the family members and primary health care workers are extremely important in this regard. All levels of stakeholders need to assume collective responsibility, and the media has an integral role to play in it. Authentic Information-Education-Communication (IEC) material can be referred to for detailed information (ex: official websites of National Institute of Mental Health, US or National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, NIMHANS, Bengaluru and other national institutes). Books like The ‘Belgrano’ and Me by Stephen Sharp and Surviving Schizophrenia by Dr. Fuller Torrey give realistic narratives of persons living with the illness and the challenges faced.
This World Schizophrenia Day let’s abolish the stigma related to this illness.
Seek and encourage help if anyone you know suffers from this disorder.
To end with the quote that we started with, empathetic solutions lie only in the “mysteries of care and love”.
(The author is a consultant neuropsychiatrist at Apollo 24|7 & Apollo Multispecialty Hospitals, Kolkata)
[Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs, and views expressed by the various authors and forum participants on this website are personal and do not reflect the opinions, beliefs, and views of ABP News Network Pvt Ltd.]
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