Schizophrenia is treatable: Needs early diagnosis

Gurgaon/New Delhi, July 16 (IANS) A 55-year-old man from Gurgaon did not interact with anyone for 15 years apart from the one day every month he stepped out of his house to withdraw money from the bank and pick up groceries. Due to delusions he claimed he was a US intelligence agent and told some people he personally knew former president George Bush.

The patient of schizophrenia - a psychotic illness - frequently claimed he could control the world's nukes.

Help came his way only when his US-based sister arrived in India and, with police help, took him to a counsellor who diagnosed him to be suffering from schizophrenia in which a person develops a split personality may not be able to distinguish his own thoughts and ideas from reality.

Psychiatrist Ruchi Sharma said most patients or their family members refused to believe that there was something wrong with the patient's brain. "Many people try to look for alternative therapies to cure their loved ones," she said.

In the Gurgaon patient's case, the counsellors "spent a lot of time and energy to get him back to normal. He is now living with his sister in the US," Sharma told IANS.

"Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition that causes a range of different psychological symptoms, including delusions - unusual beliefs not based on reality - and changes in behaviour," said counsellor Geeta Mehta.

According to a US National Library of Medicine article, the prevalence of schizophrenia in India is about three per 1,000 individuals. It is most often diagnosed between the ages of 15-35 and men and women are equally affected.

Sharma said the Gurgaon man's sister was prompt in accepting the truth about his poor mental condition and did not waste time in seeking reconfirmation from other doctors and professionals.

"It is important that schizophrenia is diagnosed as early as possible, as the chances of recovery improve the earlier it is treated," said Mehta.

There is no single test for schizophrenia. It is most often diagnosed after an assessment by a mental healthcare professional, such as a psychiatrist, she said.

A Delhi-based medical rehabilitation expert, Divya Pal Singh, stressed on avoiding alternative therapies for a patient's well-being.

"Some patients land in the net of quacks or black magicians who promise all kinds of magic remedies, but there is no alternative to modern medical therapies, including those for schizophrenia," Divya Pal Singh told IANS.

The exact cause of schizophrenia is not known. A majority of experts believe the condition is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. It is thought certain things make you more vulnerable to developing schizophrenia and that certain situations can trigger the condition.

Experts say schizophrenia is usually treated with a combination of medication and therapy appropriate to each individual. In most cases, this will be anti-psychotic medicines and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

A three-week programme at an NGO-supported facility costs around Rs.70,000, while an upscale rehabilitation drill at a private centre costs up to Rs.2.25 lakh, said an administrator of a Delhi-based private clinic.

People with schizophrenia usually receive help in the form of community-based support. "Many people recover from schizophrenia. Support and treatment can help reduce the impact of the condition on the patient's life," Mehta said.

(Rahul Chhabra can be contacted at rahul.c@ians.in)

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