Understanding the Mysterious Case of Schizophrenia; A Form of Mental Illness

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Dr. Rupa Jha

New Delhi, January 27-Schizophrenia literally means “the splitting of mind”. It has continued to mystify people since ancient times. Various theories that have been put forward to explain them extend from being caused by spirits to the imbalance of humours. The current acceptable scientific theory is that schizophrenia occurs when there’s an excess of a neurotransmitter called dopamine in your brain.

Schizophrenia is a long standing illness and it needs continuous treatment.

When do you suspect schizophrenia?

-Commonly the age of onset is 20-30 years but it can be present at any age.

-The person might feel that people are talking about him, feels people want to harm him or kill him. He may also there are cameras around him or chips inside the body and people are following him. The person might have reduced interaction with friends and families and may not be going to work.

There might be a change in behaviour including behaviours that do not make any apparent sense.

-Stays preoccupied throughout the day, lost in his own thoughts. When questioned about his activities does not answer and says things that do not make sense.

-Person might be observed to be talking to self, gesturing, smiling without any apparent reasons. People with schizophrenia hear voices and sometimes they tend to respond to those voices.

-Routine activities are affected. Decreased self care, not bathing or changing clothes, not cutting hair/shaving. Person can have appetite or sleep disturbances.

If the above signs are present in a person you know, it is time to consult a psychiatrist.

Treatment

Treatment options available are oral medications, injections and electroconvulsive therapy (“shock” treatment).

For patients who are not willing to take tablets everyday, injectable options are available wherein they can take injections every 15 /30 days. 3 monthly injections are also available in some places.

Patients don’t recover fully from the illness however functionality varies with treatment and depending upon various other factors. Most of the patients have to continue the treatment for life.

Patient Needs Your Support 

Psychosocial support is associated with a better prognosis. Some people can barely function enough to take their medicine and maintain personal care and hygiene while other can even get married and hold a job. There are lots of therapy options available for the patient ranging from the ones that help them interact to the ones that help them to be employed.

The worst enemy of these patients is the lack of awareness about the illness that prevents them from availing treatment in a timely manner. Schizophrenics are portrayed as being violent in the movies which is quite a rare scenario. Mostly these people are scared and confused. They need treatment and our empathy.

Why Awareness is Important?

The ignorance about mental illness has led to the patients being shunned and neglected. They have been marginalised and stigmatized without any fault of their own. With proper treatment, schizophrenia can be manageable.

For severe cases there are various paid long term housing facilities that are available. Under the new mental health care act, it is now government’s responsibility to provide these long term stays for patients free of cost. Hopefully in near future we’ll have these facilities so the patient as well as the caregivers are adequately helped.

(Dr Rupa Jhais a Junior Resident at Institute of Psychiatry and Human Behaviour, Goa)

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