CHENNAI: Support is everything for someone dealing with schizophrenia. Any success story of a schizophrenic patient reaches its happy ending only with contributions from family, friends, doctors and society. Kanthamma’s story is no different.
While symptoms of the illness first started to show when she was newly married, it began to get worse when she and her children were abandoned by her husband. A few people helped them but the kids did not know much about their mother’s illness, due to which they were unable to give her the help she needed, and soon, she ended up on the streets.
Five years ago, The Banyan, an NGO that works with mental health issues, rescued her but Kanthamma did not respond to treatment for three years. However, doctors recall her three kids who made members of the Banyan fraternity their family by paying close attention to their mother’s health and progress. “They never gave up, even when she would have bad episodes and curse them or say that they are not her children. They didn’t leave her side,” said clinical psychologist Dr Archana Padmakar.
After many counselling sessions along with the family, skill development programmes and medication, Kanthamma began responding two years ago. “Her three children told us that they were financially stable enough to rent a house and took their mother back. They are happy together; they eat and even visit the temple together,” added Dr Padmakar.
According to the Banyan officials, out of the 1,831 women they had rescued over the past 25 years, 1,403 have been taken back by their families, proving that the illness can be managed with just a little help. While medication is highly essential while treating schizophrenia, doctors and psychologists say it’s equally important for the patient to have a strong support system, since one the main causes of the illness is stress. “Environmental stress, loss of loved ones, divorce, work stress and poverty are some of the main causes of schizophrenia. Symptoms show up when you’re between 15 and 25 years, which is a crucial time in anyone’s life,” explained Dr KV Kishore, director of Banyan, who has been in the field for over 30 years.
Schizophrenia affects a person at different levels and some can have just one episode that never recurs. Others could have recurring episodes and need constant care and medication, but nothing can stop them from leading their everyday lives if they go for regular follow-ups.
“Follow-ups are crucial for schizophrenic patients, or they could relapse; regular counselling and therapy are essential. Also, some patients might have acute stress when it comes to social interactions and this can affect their work as well; so we have to make them undergo skill development or occupational therapy,” added Dr Kishore, and went on to say that more steps should be taken to make treatment accessible, as schizophrenia affects a large number of poverty-stricken people.
“Medication costs `350-700 and if not daily doses, there are injections that they can take every three or four weeks.” Doctors stress the importance of family for follow-ups, which has to encourage and ensure their loved one gets all the attention he or she requires. Since families play such an important role, it is necessary that even they get psychological support.
“We do not abandon a family member just because they have cancer or any other disease, so why for schizophrenia? When compared to developed countries, more schizophrenic patients in our country get better. That’s because our culture has a strong belief in religion and family, so that should continue holding us together,” said Dr Padmakar.
(*name of patient changed)
When compared to developed countries, more schizophrenic patients in our country get better. That’s because our culture has a strong belief in religion and family, so that should continue holding us together
— Dr Archana Padmakar, clinical psychologist