3 in every 1000 Indians suffer from schizophrenia. With a population of over 1.7 billion, on average, that's over 35 lakh Indians who have schizophrenia. With little support and awareness about how schizophrenia affects them, and with overwhelming fear of being called "crazy", many people don't get the help they need.
On World Schizophrenia Day, we spoke to psychiatrist Dr. Debanjan Banerjee to debunk some of the common myths about schizophrenia, and take a look at how they not only hinder treatment, but also spread fear and misconceptions about the disease.
Myth: Schizophrenics Are Violent and/or Dangerous
Fact: Schizophrenics hear voices and experience delusions when their condition worsens.
They may feel persecuted or think that there's a conspiracy to hurt them, and someone in a state like this, when pushed, teased, or publicly attacked/humiliated may respond with violence and/or anger, says Dr. Banerjee.
Schizophrenics tend to be more of a danger to themselves than others in most cases. However, as the condition worsens, the patient might become more paranoid and tend to lash out to protect themselves.
Myth: Schizophrenics Have Multiple Personalities
"Our understanding of why schizophrenia happens has evolved over a period of time," says Dr. Banerjee. "A lack of understanding led to schizophrenia being called "split personality" but in a different connotation. What you see in the movies is unfortunately untrue," Dr. Banerjee adds.
What you see in the movies as "split personality", like in Night Shyamalan's 'Split' or Priyadarshan's 'Bhool Bhulaiyaa' is multiple personality disorder or dissociative identity disorder, he adds.
Myth: People With Schizophrenia Can't Hold Down a Job
"It can be very challenging for someone with schizophrenia to hold down a job," Dr. Banerjee says. But, he adds, recovery is possible.
"The true meaning of recovery in schizophrenia is beyond symptom resolution. It's about functional recovery. We talk about vocational rehabilitation, occupational therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, and more. As professionals we aim to reintegrate people back into society," he adds.
"Like Dr. John Nash, in A Beautiful Mind, it was through treatment and after multiple ups and downs, that he was able to continue with his work that made him famous. We all know game theory now because of his efforts."
"It's not always true that all your paranoia and delusions may disappear. Even if it goes to SOME extent, with the help of care, support, counselling and abolishing of the stigma around it, then the person can function just like any other person," he adds.
"That's what we mean by recovery."
Myth: Schizophrenics Can Never Recover
"More than two-thirds of the patients we treat respond well to medication," says Dr. Banerjee. Schizophrenics are usually treated with anti-psychotic medication.
What medicine you'll respond to depends on your specific individual condition, Dr. Banerjee adds. With the right medication and support, most patients can return to a regular daily routine and have healthy, fulfilling lives.
"Our focus is to not just help patients live, but to return them to their daily lives, where they can have good relationships and live a full life. Schizophrenia treatment has evolved beyond just treatment of symptoms. It goes far beyond that now," Dr. Banerjee adds.
In fact, medication is one part of treatment, while cognitive behavioural therapy and other therapies are used to supplement and return people to a healthy state. It's only in combination with love and support from the people around them that they can fully recover and return to a normal life.