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Times of India
07 November 2011
By Sumitra Deb Roy
Mumbai India

Unions Fare Better When Spouses Know Of Ailment

In a society where marriage is sacrosanct, doctors treating mental health patients often face the dilemma whether they should advise their patients to tie the knot or stay away. A study by the psychiatry department of Sion hospital, focusing only on schizophrenia patients, has attempted to take the problem head on, and has come out with some surprising findings.

The year–long study carried out by psychiatrist Dr Vikas Deshmukh of the civic–run hospital has shown that a fairly high–70% of schizophrenia patients out of 101–had tied the knot, and have been married for between five and 15 years. Interestingly, the marital rate of schizophrenia patients seems to be just 10–15% less than that of the general population. India is believed to be home to at least 7 million schizophrenia patients.

Marriage Knot So Bad For Schizo Patients

An accepted norm, as social experts and physicians agree, is that most parents of schizophrenia patients tend to get the latter married by hiding the ailment from the in–laws and spouse. This study has clearly shown that the practice could do more harm than good to the patients.

Numbers showed that unions fared better in cases where the spouse and his/her family were informed about the illness prior to the marriage. The success rate was as high as 84% in terms of sustainability of the union. The divorce rates, on the other hand, were as high as 42% in cases where the spouse or the family was kept in dark about the ailment. The divorce rate in instances where the inlaws were informed about the ailment before marriage was about 16%.

Calling it a significant finding, Dr Deshmukh said, “We have observed that if the ailment is kept under wraps, the patient tends to skip medication as he/she is paranoid about getting caught. It also adds to the patient’s stress.” He added that in case of unmarried patients, parents had either not considered marriage or were unwilling to do so. “Male patients bore the brunt of the outlook compared to female patients,” he said.

Interestingly, Deshmukh’s teacher and head of psychiatry department at Sion hospital, Dr Nilesh Shah, begged to differ. “Not undermining the findings of the study, I would still recommend patients to get married without informing the spouses. That’s because, by talking about the ailment at the very beginning, the patient loses his/her faint chances of finding social support,” he said. “Yes, in cases, where the patient has found some acceptance from his/her spouse or in–laws, the chance (of disclosing the ailment) could be taken,” he said. Shah justified his stand, saying that one has good chances of developing mental ailment like schizophrenia even after marriage.

Strongly refuting this argument, marriage counsellor Dr Rajan Bhonsale said that hiding details about an ailment such as schizophrenia would amount to cheating. “It could also become a legal issue between the couple,” he added.

It may be noted that global studies have also established that over 30% of schizophrenia patients can pass off as normal people with medication, while another 30% could show some signs of the ailment. Yet, the idea of marriage in patients suffering from schizophrenia did not seem to have many takers in the educated class. An employed patient, however, has greater chances of getting a life partner.

Deshmukh clearly said that the idea of the study was not to propagate marriage as a treatment but to definitely look at it as a social support. Also, marriages among Hindu patients seemed to last longer. Age, too, had a role to play in sustainability of marriage as earlier the age of onset of schizophrenia, less the probability of the marriage sustaining.

What is Schizophrenia?

A complex mental condition in which a patient perceives a distorted reality and is usually unaware that he or she is ill

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