Watch this before you start reading: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afbKXWCQMvE
No, that is not a clip from a horror movie, that’s what a schizophrenic’s mind sounds like. Scared? Don’t be.
As I sat down to write this article and engaged in a thumb war with the letters on the keyboard and the backspace, my mother asked me what I was working on. I told her that MTTN wanted to raise awareness on mental health and that I was trying to write an article on Schizophrenia but was having major writer’s block. Her interest was piqued and she wanted to know why I picked this particular disorder. I told her that I did so because I knew periamma (a Tamil word that refers to your mother’s elder sister) had it and asked her to help me out with a few personal experiences.
Schizophrenia is a serious inheritable mental disorder where a person is unable to distinguish between what is real and what is imaginary. This affects their thinking, emotions, and behaviour as well. When it comes to the experience, each person may have different symptoms but the common symptom experienced by almost all patients is psychosis. The onset of Schizophrenia is extremely sudden and societal factors such as poor parenting, childhood trauma, lack of will power, etc. are not a cause despite the general consensus. Till date the cause of Schizophrenia is unknown; it’s suspected to be linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain which could be a result of genetic mutations.
My mother’s sister was an extremely bright student who had a love for all things art related and had a very cushy lifestyle. In the 10th grade, she chose to switch to a state board school to improve her academics and led a very simple, content life until one day when she came back from school and didn’t talk to anyone. She sat there, her head hung and refused to talk to anyone about what had happened. My grandparents assumed that she was facing problems in the new school and suspected that she had been a victim of bullying and took her to a counselor to get her to talk about it. Psychologists at the time thought she was just having a bad phase in her life and asked my grandparents to give her space. A week passed by and nothing had changed and suddenly one of the first things she said was “I can hear someone. He’s laughing at me.” At this point, my grandparents realized that this was not a normal ‘’teenager’s mood swing’’ and took her to a psychiatrist for an appropriate diagnosis. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia and started her medication for the same. The early 80s had brilliant psychiatrists who knew a lot about the disease and so understanding it was not a problem. The only problem was a lack of awareness amongst people. Since schizophrenic people often have hallucinations and talk to their inner voice(s), a lot of people considered them to be possessed by “evil spirits” and a lady advised my grandmother to go to a local priest who was known to “cure” these people. My grandmother, who was willing to do anything to help her daughter went to the temple and realised that all the people there were actually schizophrenic patients and did what she could to increase awareness amongst these people. Even today, many a time, the first thing people think when they see a schizophrenic patient is that they’re possessed or mentally deranged.
Since the widespread theory behind the cause of the illness is its chemical nature, tablets are given to patients who suffer from the same. The medicines available around a three decades ago had an extremely strong composition and most of the time made people drowsy and drugged (although this is not the case with modern medicine). Patients undergoing therapy experience frequent mood swings and even the slightest statement could set off a trigger, get them enraged and lead to suicidal thoughts and tendencies. It’s extremely important to be sensitive around people with schizophrenia because just about anything can upset them. At the same time, they need to be treated normally because if they feel like they’re being treated differently, that could agitate them too. My periamma had an extremely severe case of schizophrenia so this is her experience alone. And as mentioned earlier, every patient has a different experience and mild forms of schizophrenia will not hamper a person’s lifestyle at all if they’re on the right medication.
As medicine advanced and her required dosage reduced, periamma completed her education, got a degree in Fashion Technology and graduated top of her class. She had a great career, got married and decided to have a child. This is where complications set in. Schizophrenic patients are not allowed to take their medication during the course of their pregnancy as it’s fatal to the baby’s health. While she was off her medication, her symptoms began to show up again and her depression worsened; the child’s mental health was a cause for concern. However, she had a healthy baby and her husband decided against allopathy and tried alternative treatments such as pyramid therapy, reiki, etc. but it was ineffective. This still takes place till date and people often doubt the effectiveness of schizophrenic medicines, but it’s extremely important to note that continuous medication is the key to stabilizing and possibly curing a patient.
Around 1% of the population is diagnosed with schizophrenia and the stigma around it being incurable and a hassle to deal with is extremely inaccurate. The only measure that needs to be taken apart from warranting proper medication, is to ensure that the entire family is involved in understanding the issue so that they can deal with the situation with compassion and not get frustrated. Some of the smartest and most famous people in the world have schizophrenia and this goes to prove that awareness can really turn a person’s life around.
To understand this topic better from a scientific point of view, follow the link https://www.ted.com/talks/elyn_saks_seeing_mental_illness
–Nethraa Kannan for MTTN
PS. This is our last article in the series of articles for the week we have earmarked as Mental Health Awareness Week. To read our previous post on PTSD, click here. To read about Bipolar Disorder click here.