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Times of India
24 May 2011
By Laxmi Birajdar
Pune, India

Integration, Rehabilitation, Family And Social Support Can Help Schizophrenics Fight The Affliction
World Schizophrenia Day
"Schizophrenics can lead normal lives… My mother and sister do," says IT professional Sugi Murmu. Murmu’s mother and sister grappled with the condition for over 20 years. "My father’s early death had left my mother stressed. My sister had nearly drowned when she was young. This intense trauma for them led to schizophrenia. However, through support and therapy, they have been able to fight off the condition completely."

She is a staunch advocator of the fact that people suffering from schizophrenia can go back to doing things the way they used to. So, she urges people not to attach a stigma to it. "Schizophrenics are extremely creative people. Their families should help them make their dreams come true and rid them of the prejudices attached."

Murmu is not alone in this belief. Another successful case underlines the importance of creative activities that bring stability and progress in the life of a schizophrenic through family support and social help. "This individual relished gardening, needlework, computers and yoga. And these very activities brought the individual’s life back on track," says a kin, while speaking to TOI on the condition of anonymity.

Integration of schizophrenics into the mainstream society and spreading awareness on the mental condition is important for normalcy to return.

Isolation should be avoided at all costs believe organisations and support groups like Schizophrenia Awareness Association (SAA), Chaitanya Foundation Bapu Trust and Nityanandand Rehabilitation Centre, who are helping out families with members suffering from schizophrenia. Their mantra is to ensure that a life lost to the trauma of schizophrenia is regained.

SAA president Amrit Bakshy says, "Efforts are on to create awareness about the mental illness, so that the treatment starts early and there is no aggravation due to ignorance. The four self–help support groups that we have set up in the city for patients and their families are now getting a good response. Patients and their kin are attending the meetings and other sessions to tackle schizophrenia." This is a positive sign for any society, he adds.

SAA has taken various initiatives to spread awareness on schizophrenia by holding public meetings, visiting schools and colleges and interacting with students on the mental illness, screening films and publishing books on schizophrenia.

Psychiatrist Vidyadhar Watve says that an important part of integration into the society of a schizophrenic is social awareness. "Awareness on the condition has certainly increased, especially in the last five years, all thanks to efforts of rehabilitation facilities and the medications available. The sad part is such that intervention is not easily available. For example, India has about 5,000 psychiatrists only and most villages do not have specialised doctors to treat individuals with mental illness."

He says that to bring about a further change the under–graduate medical curriculum needs to undergo modifications to devote more time to the study of psychiatry. "Currently, just 15 days of ward work and eight marks of theory are included in the under–graduate syllabus. Also, there are no special exams on psychiatry. Academic changes should be made to generate interest in this subject among medical students," adds Watve.

Psychiatrist Ulhas Luktuke says, "The treatment has changed a great deal. Previously, there were hardly two to three medicines available for related treatment, but today there are many drugs that are selective in their action. They pinpoint on particular neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain. However, the answer for schizophrenia has not been found." Thus, he feels that till then, rehabilitation centres and support groups can go a long way to help ease schizophrenics back to a normal life.

Managing trustee of Bapu Trust Bhargavi Davar says, "A stringent evaluation protocol of schizophrenia cases is needed. In Maharashtra, there’s a huge deficit of psychiatrists, so psychiatric evaluation of our patients has become difficult. The diagnostic procedures should become stringent with proper health and social evaluation. The more we know about a patient’s malnutrition and childhood trauma, the more we can understand the individual’s mental breakdown. Integration within a caring family and society is equally important."

Watve and Luktuke say that though there are around 50 to 60 psychiatrists in the city, there is no official estimate of the number of people suffering from schizophrenia in Pune.

Psychiatrist Vidyadhar Watve speaks
On schizophrenia statistics On schizophrenia On symptoms that may include On bringing the patient back into mainstream society