8, March 2010
By Shailvee Sharda
Awareness And Timely Treatment Can Help Cure Schizophrenia: Experts
This is what happened with 27–year–old Shamin who sent the Lucknow police into a tizzy for over 40 hours last month.
Medically, this condition called schizophrenia – one of the many daunting mental health challenges that affect patients, their families, health care givers and even the society.
Surprisingly, the media hype over Shamim episode has helped in creating awareness on mental disorders, claims Dr Harjeet Singh of psychiatry department, Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University (CSMMU).
“There has been a threefold increase in the number of patients with mental disorders coming to CSMMU…as many families became conscious after the Shamim episode,” he told TOI.
On an average, Prof Singh informed, his out patient department sees 120–160 patients in a single day.
But the number has swelled up to 300 after the Shamim’s case came to the fore. He said that most of the patients suffering with mental disorders can be grouped into two – schizophrenia and bipolar depression.
Expert in the subject and director of Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF), the only WHO collaborating centre in India for mental health research and training, Prof R Thara says that of all mental aberrations, schizophrenia is most threatening. “It affects a person in the productive years (18–35 years) of life,” she said while talking to TOI on Monday.
She is in Lucknow to attend the foundation day celebrations of CSMMU’s psychiatry department.
Notably, schizophrenia is called the “greatest disabler of youth” in many countries. Bright and qualified young men and women can develop this disorder which can thwart their future plans. More common in men, schizophrenia affects one in 100 persons across the world.
However, if identified and treated early, it is possible for a person to recover and return to normal life.
But at times, the stigma along with lack of awareness deprives a patient from effective treatment. “The delays often aggravate a patient’s condition thereby reducing the chances of complete recovery,” she said, adding that this also has a bearing on patient’s adjustment in the society. This calls for an urgent need to destigmatise and rehabilitate the person suffering with schizophrenia. “Since we do not have any social security benefits for the mentally ill, it becomes essential for them to resume work soon. In short, a patient should not be a burden on the family for long,” she said. On how can the rehabilitation process help an individual, Prof Thara explained that once put through a proper module of rehabilitation, the disabilities in a patient get reduced. This facilitates him/her to regain some of the lost skills and integrate with the society. “In the specific case of schizophrenia, the disability may be poor social skills, difficulty in communication and forming relationships, and doing everyday tasks,” Prof Thara said.
“The key to rehabilitation is inculcate a work habit and a discipline among patients. This helps when they move outside for any purpose including jobs. This instils selfconfidence and raises self–esteem of the patient, along with facilitating the recovery process,” she said.
Prof Thara’s has, in fact, developed a tool to measure disability caused by a mental illness.
Indian Disability Evaluation and Assessment Scale (IDEAS) is used nationwide and has been gazetted by the ministry of social justice and empowerment as the official tool to measure disability. And, her centre, SCARF, has specific tools for managing schizophrenia.
India, however, lags behind when it comes to addressing the causes of mental health diseases.
“The concept of rehabilitation finds no place in health policies. Even top institutes do not have adequate facilities to train their work force on this count,” Prof Thara pointed out. Notably, according to rough estimates, about 1% of total health budget in India falls in the head of mental health diseases.
- Identifying the symptoms early can help the individual lead a fairly normal life.
- Parents or care givers must consult a psychiatrist when they see the following symptoms in their child:
- Lack of concentration in studies or work
- Disturbed sleep or appetite patterns
- Social withdrawl: keeping away from friends is also a symptom of schizophrenia
- Presence of strange fears like being scared of meeting people or going out – Seeing figures which others cannot see
- Hearing voices which others cannot
- Feeling persecuted
- Awareness is essential to dispel common myths associated with the disease which is the greatest barrier in the treatment of the disease.
- It’s a result of black magic
- Some evil spirit has possessed the person
- It is a result of the bad karmas of the affected person’s previous births
- All patients suffering with schizophrenia are violent. This is not a characteristic of all patients affected.
- The patient affected with the condition will never improve.
- A Hungarian psychiatrist described schizophrenia as: if you are talking to God, you are praying but if God is talking to you, you are suffering with schizophrenia.
- Schizophrenia is defined as a disabling group of brain disorders characterised by symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, disorganised communication, poor planning, reduced motivation and blunted affect.
- In India, the annual rural and urban rates of incidence of schizophrenia stands at 4.4 and 3.8 per 10,000 persons.
- Considering the vast population this data translates into a huge number of new cases every year.
- The treatment of schizophrenia is free in CSMMU and even if one had to pay the cost of treatment would not be more than Rs 5 per day.