24 May 2024  |   03:58am IST

Understanding people with Schizophrenia

World Schizophrenia Awareness Day is observed on 24 May every year to raise awareness about the mental illness. This day is dedicated to providing support and resources to individuals suffering from Schizophrenia and how the society can help
Understanding people with Schizophrenia

Leann O A Mesquita

World Schizophrenia Awareness Day is an important opportunity to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and to promote understanding and acceptance of diversity. The theme for this year’s World Schizophrenia Day, ‘Celebrating the power of community kindness’ beckons us as a community to be supportive of the people battling this life-hindering condition. This campaign is aimed at fostering empathy and support for people with Schizophrenia, promote early interventions and treatment approaches and raise awareness among the public, healthcare workers and policymakers. This day dedicated towards this cause is marked by a silver ribbon and signifies community support towards individuals with this condition.

Schizophrenia may be understood as a chronic and crippling mental health disorder that affects the way a person may think, perceive, behave, and feel differently as compared to the normal population. It may be driven by genetic factors, substance use, environmental factors such a stress, emotional overload, and trauma. Schizophrenia spectrum disorders are considered severe mental illnesses and are one of the leading contributors to the global burden of disease. In India, as per the Global Burden of Diseases (GBD), the prevalence of Schizophrenia up to 2017 was estimated at 0.3 percent. Globally, this disorder affects about 24 million people. Nonetheless, the battle of awareness, diagnosis and treatment must go on.

People that battle Schizophrenia, as opposed to popular myths in society do not have a split personality, are not possessed by ghosts and are not victims of black magic. In fact, they lose touch from the real world because of one of the common symptoms that involves psychosis. Apart from psychotic episodes, patients struggling with this condition also have symptoms which include delusional thinking, hallucinations, dissociation, disorganized thoughts, and violent behaviour. While the symptoms first begin in early adulthood, in some cases, they may begin manifesting earlier, although it is a rarity. The symptoms seen in adults may differ in children and because children find it difficult to express themselves, it could lead to panic among parents and caregivers. In Childhood Schizophrenia, the symptoms differ from adults in the sense that children battling the condition are more likely to have visual hallucinations. In comparison with adults, the symptoms of Schizophrenia in children and teenagers are rather challenging to detect as many might confuse these with the ongoing process of growing up. However, there are a few pointers that can aid in identifying the symptoms before they grow worse. 

As for the symptoms of Schizophrenia, they include hallucinations that mostly involve hearing voices; delusional beliefs that someone may be trying to harm them; agitation; depressive mood; disorganized thought and speech and socially repulsive behaviour patterns; violence; self-harm in some cases; lack of motivation and interest; disrupted sleep patterns; diminished cognitive abilities (impaired concentration, memory etc.) and decreased social functioning. These symptoms may appear along with poor personal hygiene such as not brushing, avoiding bathing and no regard for cleanliness. 

Although Schizophrenia is not a curable disease, it can be efficiently treated and the symptoms, managed. The first step involves consulting with a Psychiatrist to help understand the patient’s symptoms and begin medications. This is followed by the process of counselling by a Psychologist that would involve Individual counselling to help the patient understand their condition, reduce any associated guilt, identify, and correct unhelpful thought, beliefs, perceptions and behaviour and Family counselling to educate the family members about their condition, to make empathy a prime approach toward the patient and reduce burnout in caregivers. 

The early detection of Schizophrenia is crucial for its effective management and improved treatment outcomes. Recognizing the warning signs and symptoms enables the patient and their family to intervene promptly. Timely diagnosis and treatment can significantly reduce the severity of symptoms and help improve the quality of life for patients. Increasing public awareness and understanding of such mental health issues reduces the stigma and encourages people to seek help without fear and embarrassment. 

(Leann O A Mesquita is a Margao-based psychotherapist) 


Iddhar Udhar