Perhaps all of us are familiar with the long-standing joke that inside every fat person, there is a skinny one longing to get out. But did you know that what applies for fitness also applies for mental health?
Inside every mentally ill person, there is a healthy individual longing to lead a normal independant life.
And so, despite constant media misrepresentations and strong social taboos about mental illness, the mentally ill can, with the help of medication and structured care, get well enough to keep a job, raise a family and in all ways, enjoy the fullness of life.
Not only that, they may possess their own special talents and abilities not found in the general population.
So popular is this notion that in 2002, the movie ‘A Beautiful Mind’ swept 4 Academy Awards and over 40 nominations for its illuminating and moving portrayal of a mathematical genius - who ‘happened’ to be suffering from schizophrenia.
Lost in their world
Schizophrenia is a chronic mental illness characterised by disturbances in thoughts and behavior. A person with schizophrenia lives in an altered sense of reality. He or she may experience visual and auditory hallucinations (such as hearing voices or seeing things that don’t actually exist), have problems with attention and memory and suffer from decreased motivation in life.
But like all mental illnesses, signs and symptoms vary from individual to individual. These are some other more common symptoms of schizophrenia:
An uncommon beauty
Schizophrenia affects around 1% of the world’s population, and both men and women can develop schizophrenia.
While the exact cause of schizophrenia is still not known, it is thought to be the result of a combination of many factors. Chemical imbalances in the brain are closely linked to the development of schizophrenia, while a plethora of other environmental factors also seem to play a part. Also, if one of your family members has had schizophrenia, you are more likely to also have the illness.
Commonly the symptoms of schizophrenia only start appearing in late teens or early twenties.
Sane in a crazy world?
How do you know if someone is schizophrenic? Like most mental illnesses, there are no specific tests that can be used to confirm the diagnosis of schizophrenia. A psychiatrist makes the diagnosis on the basis of symptoms reported by the patient, in combination with an overall psychiatric assessment.
And since these symptoms, like most, can also be associated with other underlying medical conditions, a complete medical examination should be carried out to rule out any other medical cause.
For example, symptoms similar to those of schizophrenia can occur in people who are involved in substance and drug abuse, and thus it is essential to differentiate drug abuse and schizophrenia. To this end, blood tests and brain scans are usually performed.
Back to reality
Schizophrenia is treated using anti-psychotic medication and different types of psychotherapy. Once the more acute symptoms of the illness are under control, the main challenges in treatment lie in preventing relapses and ensuring that the patient continues to take the medication. These latter perhaps are the hardest parts of the treatment process.
Common reasons offered by patients for discontinuing their medication are a lack of insight (some associate their illness with certain ‘gifts’), delusions, side effects of the drugs and absence of family and caregiver support.
Because of this, a high rate of relapse is sadly all too common, leading to an increased chance of hospitalisation and consequently an escalating cycle of costs and even further lack of support. Even in developed countries such as the UK, it is said that 60% of all homeless are mentally ill.
This is why, following the management of the acute stage of the illness, a major component of therapy is rehabilitation and re-integration of the schizophrenic person back into the society.
This requires a collective effort from physicians, support groups, family and friends and society at large – and calls for nothing more than a sense of compassion for the afflicted.
After all, don’t all of us deserve a chance to live life to the fullest?