Schizophrenia is the most persistent and disabling of the major mental illnesses, said V. Radhika Reddy, Prof. of Psychiatry, Siddhartha Medical College, on Friday.

She was addressing an awareness programme on schizophrenia to mark World Schizophrenia Day, attended by family members and care-takers of the disease-afflicted people at the Indian Medical Association hall in the city.

Common symptoms

Pointing to the theme of the day this year - Mental Health and Older Adults - she said common symptoms of schizophrenia included delusions, hallucinations, illusions and thought disturbances. “While the causes of schizophrenia are not yet well understood, experts agree that it is most likely caused by a combination of several factors, including genetic predisposition, environmental conditions and differences in brain chemistry and structure. Because the causes of schizophrenia are still unknown, treatments focus on eliminating the symptoms of the disease. Treatments include antipsychotic medications and various psychosocial treatments,” she explained.

Early treatment must

With early treatment and good medicare, the symptoms of schizophrenia can be reduced or even eliminated. Many people suffering from schizophrenia still lead regular lives, have jobs and maintain healthy relationships, she said.

She said in most cases the patient does not have insight into his/her deteriorating health condition and so does not feel the need to seek medical help. “India has a population of nearly 1 crore schizophrenic patients but only 50 per cent of them get timely and proper treatment. Others are left to languish in their world of hallucinations,” she said, adding that almost 90 per cent of the world’s schizophrenia cases are found in developing nations.

Family role

Emphasising the role of family members, she said they must cope with the patient. “In case of fever or any other ailment, the illness is brief. But schizophrenia, at times, is a lifelong curse. Early detection of the symptoms and adequate treatment is the only solution,” she said.

Initial treatment must last for at least two years, she said, adding that family members’ unconditional support could play a vital role. This was followed by an interactive session wherein family members and care-takers cleared doubts with regard to the disease.