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Times of India
25 May 2008
Mumbai, India
By Times News Network

New Medicines, Therapies Can Help Patients With Schizophrenia Return To Being Productive Members Of Society
Source: National Institute of Mental Health, NIH, US Source: National Institute of Mental Health, NIH, US
The reds and blues in Akila Maheshwari’s paintings give no hint of the grey world she once occupied. The paintings are a measure of Akila’s successful comeback. “We call ourselves survivors”, says Akila.

For eight years, she battled giants in her mind. Corrupt politicians, CIA machinations to destablise the country and “people out to kill her daughters” were a few of the monsters she fought when schizophrenia crept into her life. “There was a period when I kept a knife under my pillow”, recalls the 48 year old Chembur resident.

Schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects a person’s perception of reality and is at times characterised by the “hearing of voices”.

Sixteen years ago, Akila, an MBA finance graduate with a degree in law, slipped into a delusional world. Suspecting the motives of all around her and touchy to harsh words, she was at times hospitalised against her will. “The electro–convulsion therapy (shock therapy) destroyed my memory of MBA lessons”, she recalls.

But eight years into the condition, and with a supportive spouse by her side, she made her peace and decided to start all over again. “I returned to the classroom, sat through all the finance lectures again and mastered it all over again”, says Akila, who is now part of the management in an MNC that knows her condition and encourages her to take on awareness work.

She took to painting two months ago. “I always wanted to paint, something I had left in Class V”. She began experimenting with watercolours and “Rediscovered the colours in life”

“Colours bring a different perspective to life. You realise that not all is grey and miserable. Creative therapy such as painting and music can take the patient’s mind off negative thoughts and let them concentrate, says Akila, who set up an NGO, Nodal Association for Mentally Ill (NAMI), in 2002 to take up awareness work”.

On Saturday, Akila’s paintings were part of an exhibitions put up by NAMI at Nalanda, Lower Parel, and HELP library on D N Road.

“I like to challenge myths that people have about schizophrenia, such as patients can’t hold on to jobs, can’t paint or can’t drive”, says Akila. She, however, stresses that without the support of her three children–two daughters from a previous marriage and a stepson from her second marriage–her parents and husband, she wouldn’t have been able to make a comeback. “When I am stressed, my parents and husband realise it and advise me to up my medication. It is such advice that goes a long way in keeping schizophrenia attacks and triggers at bay”, she says.

At the exhibition, 31 year old Prashant Panchal’s oil paintings were also displayed. “His world turned topsy–turvy because of schizophrenia two years ago. But he attends a day–care centre, Kshitij, in Lower Parel and is now in control. Given his flair for art, he now wants to explore it as a career”, says Akila.

“Painting and music are good tools to help schizophrenia patients who are not hallucinating. It helps them turn away from negative thoughts and triggers and concentrate on one task”, says Dr. Sanjay Kumawat of the Thane Mental Hospital.

“There is little awareness about the rights of such patients. We want to emphasise the need for day–care centres for them so they can stay close to people and society”, says Kumawat.

IMAGINARY DEMONS What is schizophrenia?
It is a chronic mental disorder in which people hear voices, become convinced that others are plotting to harm them or believe that others are broadcasting their thoughts to the world. These experiences could make them fearful and withdrawn and affect their relationships with others

Incidence
It affects about 1% of the population

Symptoms
Could include hallucinations, delusions, disordered thinking, movement disorders, social withdrawal and cognitive deficits

Treatment
We are living in times of hope for those living with schizophrenia. Newer medicines can eliminate many of the symptoms and nearly 80% of people with schizophrenia can lead normal lives

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