Fri, 29 Sep 2000

Schizophrenia awareness still low: Doctors

JAKARTA (JP): Doctors are calling on the public to pay greater attention to schizophrenia, particularly to teenagers suffering the illness.

Psychiatrists warned on Thursday that parents should seek medical advice if their children were intensely paranoid, unreasonably silent, extremely aggressive, or often suffered from delusions and hallucinations, as they could be signs of schizophrenia.

While the mental illness afflicts all ages, it is most prevalent between the ages of 15 and 30.

"Children under 15 can also suffer from schizophrenia, but it's rare," senior psychiatrist at Cipto Mangunkusumo General Hospital, Sasanto Wibisono, said.

Beside the symptoms mentioned above, he said, schizophrenia patients are also prone to spouting nonsense. Their intellectual capacities also show a tendency to decline.

Sasanto said if anyone displayed these symptoms regularly for a month, he or she could most likely be classified as a schizophrenic.

It is believed that the main cause of the illness is a neurochemical imbalance in the brain.

"But there are some cases where there's nothing wrong with the patients' brain," said Irmansyah, a psychiatrist and lecturer at the University of Indonesia's School of Medicine.

He added that stress and complications in pregnancy could also be a trigger.

"When a parent is schizophrenic, the child has a 10 percent probability of suffering it too. If both parents are schizophrenic, the probability rises to 40 percent," Irmansyah said

It is estimated that between 0.2 and 2 percent of Indonesians suffer from the illness.

Irmansyah said awareness of the illness was still very poor.

"Sufferers are very often discriminated against and patients' rights are often violated," he said, adding that schizophrenics were often shunned by their family.

He added that due to low awareness of the illness, patients were usually only taken to a doctor when they were chronically ill. "As a result, it takes a very long time to cure them. They could suffer for the rest of their lives," Irmansyah said.

Although the illness is not 100 percent curable, antipsychotic medication administered in its early stages is helpful.

Sasanto said that while schizophrenia may not be fatal it caused a tremendous emotional and financial burden on sufferers' families.

"Although it's not a deadly illness, 30 percent of schizophrenic patients become very depressed and suicidal," he added.

In order to increase people's awareness of schizophrenia, Sasanto, Irmansyah and colleagues will hold an inaugural national three-day conference on the illness here on Oct. 8.(09)