Jinja: Schizophrenia, a severe mental condition altering thoughts, feelings, and actions, casts a shadow on those affected and their loved ones. Presenting symptoms often include detachment from reality, making it a challenging journey for individuals and their families. Globally, around 24 million people suffer from schizophrenia, a condition less common than some other mental illnesses but nonetheless deeply impactful.
Typically emerging during late adolescence and early adulthood, schizophrenia tends to affect men more frequently than women. A startling fact is that individuals with schizophrenia face a two to threefold higher risk of premature death, often due to conditions like cardiovascular diseases, metabolic disorders, and infections.
Within Uganda, mental health issues touch more than 30% of the population, yet less than half seek professional treatment due to a scarcity of mental health facilities, limited medications, and a shortage of skilled specialists.
Dr. Mukoda Phiona, a medical officer at Musana Community Health Center, underlines the importance of recognizing schizophrenia symptoms and seeking early intervention. Onset of schizophrenia typically occurs between ages 16 and 30, following the first episode of psychosis. In communities, this condition is sometimes misconstrued as witchcraft, although it is relatively rare in younger children.
Various factors contribute to schizophrenia, including poverty, stressful environments, prenatal exposure to viruses or nutritional deficiencies, and differences in brain structure and function. Genetics also play a role, though having a family member with schizophrenia does not guarantee others will be affected.
Prince Minjo Peter, a mental health advocate, outlines three primary categories of schizophrenia symptoms: psychotic, negative, and cognitive.
Psychotic symptoms: Hallucinations, delusions, motor problems, and cognitive disturbances.
Negative symptoms: Loss of motivation, interest, and emotions, as well as withdrawal from social life.
Cognitive symptoms: Challenges with attention, concentration, memory, and communication.
Modern treatment approaches focus on helping individuals manage symptoms, enhance daily functioning, and pursue personal goals. Antipsychotic medications play a significant role in alleviating severe symptoms and are often administered as daily pills or liquid solutions. In some cases, these drugs are delivered through monthly injections.
Dr. Phiona emphasizes the role of healthcare providers in guiding individuals to the appropriate mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists and psychologists experienced in treating mental disorders. Support groups and family education programs can also be beneficial, contributing to a holistic treatment approach.
Prince Minjo echoes that while schizophrenia is not prevalent, those affected in regions like Africa, including Busoga, may mistakenly attribute it to witchcraft, resulting in a lack of seeking treatment. Raising awareness about the condition and its treatment options is crucial to help individuals receive the care they need and deserve.