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Schizophrenia reflects India’s mental health stigma

A cloth embroidered by an individual with schizophrenia. Image credit: cometstarmoon [CC BY 2.0 (]
“The other day when I was watching television I saw an advertisement conveying how people discriminate with people suffering from HIV/AIDS and how they should not do that,” Dr Madhusudan Singh Solanki writes in “I felt good about that at least there are efforts to reduce the stigma and myths regarding HIV/AIDS but at the same time I wondered no one talks about and how people are not even aware of an even more common, disabling, stigmatised mental health disorder called schizophrenia.”

Schizophrenia affects 21 million people worldwide according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Dr Solanki, the senior consultant psychiatrist at the Max Smart Superspecialty Hospital in Saket, observes that three million Indians may be living with schizophrenia. This figure exceeds the 2.4 million Indians afflicted with HIV/AIDS, he adds.

Preventing schizophrenia and other mental health conditions from being a topic of public health discussion in India is, according to Dr Solanki, “stigma and myths”. His piece for The Times of India draws attention to the fact that “we see no advertisement, no reminders, no campaigns to make people aware of this unfortunate malady…. being a psychiatrist I wonder why those afflicted with a serious brain disorder called schizophrenia find no voice, no support, no campaign to make people aware and reduce the stigma that can somewhere lessen their silent suffering.”

Health Issues India has reported before concerning the mental health crisis in India. Around 150 million Indians are in need of mental healthcare, but a mere ten percent of those who require such attention can avail it. The mental healthcare treatment gap, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, is somewhere between fifty and seventy percent.

Many Indians hold prejudicial attitudes towards individuals living with mental health conditions. They regard such people as “crazy/mad/stupid” and even deserving of being segregated from civil society.

“Due to the stigma and lack of awareness and lack of accessibility to proper mental health care, it takes anywhere between one year to fourteen years or more for patient to seek treatment after suffering from schizophrenia and psychosis,” writes Dr Solanki. “Schizophrenia is considered to be a neurologically toxic disease it usually does major damage by then and makes the patient dysfunctional in almost all domains of life to a point of no return.” This, he adds, contributes to high rates of suicide among those afflicted with the condition.

Reshaping the dialogue surrounding mental health in India is necessary if individuals living with such conditions can lead healthy and hopeful lives, afforded the dignity and acceptance they need. “Schizophrenia is treatable and most of the patient can live a reasonably good life with proper and regular treatment,” notes Dr Solanki. This is true of the majority of mental health conditions. Without a broader acknowledgment of this fact, mental health will continue to be India’s silent crisis.

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