Misconceptions about schizophrenia leading to delayed diagnosis

People who strongly believe in things which are not true, hear voices out of nowhere, wander off, behave aimlessly, and act abnormally might be suffering from schizophrenia. This is according to a psychiatrist from the national referral hospital. Schizophrenia is a psychiatric disorder with common symptoms such as delusion, hallucination, and disorganised thinking and behaviour. People with schizophrenia are often late to seek medical help as they are unaware of it.

One is often termed “choelo” or “psycho” if they act strange or abnormally. But that person might be suffering from schizophrenia, one of the most serious psychiatric disorders, which affects major functions of the brain.

The World Health Organisation or WHO says people with schizophrenia face social exclusion, which impacts their relationships with others, including family and friends.

According to doctor Bikram Chhetri of the national referral hospital, there are misconceptions about schizophrenia patients being violent.

The doctor says they are not violent but often a victim of abuse.

“Mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, often go unrecognised due to poor literacy on mental health and mental health issues. Either they are unaware that such problems exist or they are in denial. And then in Bhutan, people’s attitude towards mental illness are greatly affected by their cultural beliefs. They often associate disorder due to some disturbances in their local deities, caused by some black magic or their past karma,” said Dr Bikram Chhetri, the Officiating Head of the Department of Psychiatry.

The psychiatrist says such strong belief systems often delay seeking medical help.

As a result, there are delays in diagnosis and then management, which also leads to poorer outcomes.

Doctor Bikram says that a person is diagnosed with schizophrenia when they suffer from the symptoms for six months.

The symptoms that last for a month is a brief psychotic disorder and if it lasts for three months, it is Schizophreniform disorder.

The doctor added that schizophrenia can be cured in some cases.

“One-third of all patients diagnosed with schizophrenia recover completely. They do not require any medications. They get back to their occupational functioning, shouldering family responsibilities, they are fine. Another one-third, they require medication with good psychosocial support, with which they do fine. And the last third, they require long-term medications, they may not improve.”

According to the WHO, the vast majority of people with schizophrenia around the world are not receiving mental healthcare.

Similarly, two out of three people with psychosis, which is one of the symptoms of schizophrenia, do not receive specialist mental health care.

Although the cause of the disorder is not known, doctor Bikram says it can be due to biological, psychological, and social factors.

Eight per cent of all mental illness patients at the national referral hospital are patients with schizophrenia. As treatment, the hospital provides medication, counselling, and group therapy every Friday.

Singye Dema

Edited by Sherub Dorji

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