In India where awareness about mental health remains low, schizophrenia is often misdiagnosed and the patient does not get the right treatment
· As we observe World Mental Health Day, doctors at Columbia Asia Hospitals try to give clarity to some common myths about the disease
Patiala, 8 Oct, 2014: Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe and disabling brain disorder, which is distressing both to the patient and family. In a country like India, where awareness about mental disorders remains abysmally low, and shrouded with myths and fallacies creating awareness about the illness and how to manage it is very important.
As we observe the World Mental Health Day, Columbia Asia has taken the responsibility to communicate widely the correct facts about this condition, which despite being challenging, is manageable. It is also important to dispel the social taboo that is associated with mental diseases like schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that hampers a person’s ability to distinguish between reality and hallucination, blurring the difference between the real and unreal. The patients believe that others are controlling their minds and thoughts with intent to harm them. This can make the sufferer very agitated and scared that they get withdrawn into a world of their own. However, modern medicine has made it possible to ensure a proper diagnosis and effective management of the disease, so that the person can lead a fairly normal life; but families need to ensure that adherence to treatment which is lifelong is ensured.
According to estimates by the World Health Organization, Schizophrenia affects about 24 million people worldwide. According to WHO, Schizophrenia affects about 7 per thousand of the adult population, mostly in the age group 15-35 years. However, over 50% of persons with schizophrenia have no access to appropriate care, with 90% of improperly diagnosed and treated schizophrenia cases being in developing countries like India.
Symptoms of schizophrenia fall into negative symptoms, positive symptoms and cognitive symptoms. Those with positive symptoms lose touch with reality and have hallucinations, delusions and thought disorders. Negative symptoms are associated with disruptions to normal emotions and behavior and need help with daily life. Cognitive symptoms are subtle and very difficult to recognize. Treatment is more effective when started in its initial stages,” says Dr Satwant Sachdeva, Senior Consultant, Neurology, Columbia Asia Hospital, Patiala.
The advanced treatment for Schizophrenia today involves antipsychotic medications to reduce symptoms, along with long-term psychiatric counseling and help. The patients living with this condition need a support system that stretches beyond the boundaries of a hospital. This entails the need of a support system comprising family members, friends, and even social workers when needed.
Care of persons with schizophrenia should be provided at community level, with active family and community involvement. Unfortunately, there is little institutional or social mechanisms in India to help and support victims in the long run. Most of the time, close family members are left alone to cope up with the devastating ailment that also disrupts the lives of others.
“In India, mental disorder is taboo. Even depression which afflicts a large section of the people is considered an alien subject; with people either failing to seek medical help or keeping it under wraps. In case of Schizophrenia, it becomes imperative to get medical help at the right time before the disorder escalates. For this, it is vital for people to understand the problem and its symptoms and know when to take their loved ones to a doctor. In the absence of any awareness about the disorder, myths remain prevalent, and large sections of the affected people fail to get the right medical help,” says Dr Sachdeva.
There is no organized community care for people with schizophrenia in India, and even mental health resources remain limited. In such a situation, it is all the more important to create greater awareness, and consciousness about the disorder, and communicate to people that getting help for a patient with schizophrenia in early stages can make a huge difference for the patient.