Back in October 2016, a certain headline in Pakistan blared and shook the world. A man diagnosed with schizophrenia committed a murder and was given a court order of execution. The Pakistan Supreme Court declared schizophrenia as ‘not a mental disorder’ henceforth leading to a flurry of criticism from across the globe.
This very notion by the highest court in Pakistan reflects how ignorant we are as a nation towards mental illnesses. Whether it is depression or severe schizophrenia, mental illnesses are considered imaginary in Pakistan.
However, schizophrenia is not an illness that can be taken lightly and it definitely is a mental disorder. Hate to break it to you, Supreme Court of Pakistan.
What Causes Schizophrenia?
The case percentage of schizophrenics has been rising steadily and while the root cause is a mystery, the disease is multifactorial. Genes can play a part as well as environmental factors. On a biological level, the brain of a schizophrenic is markedly different than a normal person. An imbalance in certain neurotransmitters is classic in schizophrenics.
What Happens in Schizophrenia?
Patients of this mental disorder suffer from a variety of different psychological symptoms. Hallucinations (usually auditory but sometimes visual) are a common finding in these patients. Schizophrenics are also characteristically paranoid and delusional. They are apathetic and do not engage in social activities. Some patients might also suffer from memory disorders.
How is Schizophrenia Treated?
While no cure exists for schizophrenia, the symptoms can be lessened by both therapy and medical intervention. Antipsychotics are usually prescribed by the doctor to help relieve the severe psychological symptoms of schizophrenia.
‘Paagal’ – isn’t that what they call everyone with a mental illness in Pakistan?
To a great percentage population of Pakistan, anyone with a mental illness is quickly labeled as ‘paagal’ (mad). It doesn’t matter what kind of illness it is – a mild case of depression or hallucinating schizophrenia – the label remains constant: paagal.
Recent studies have revealed that cases of depression and anxiety have been on the rise. Yet in Pakistan only a fraction of them actually seek professional help. The lack of awareness coupled with the taboo has left patients with an actual mental illness helpless.
A common misconception here is that depression is temporary; triggered by short-term events that cause low moods. The truth is it’s not temporary and the low moods persist for a long time even after problems have been solved.
Depression occurs on a cellular level in the brain and is cause by low levels of a neurotransmitter serotonin.
Similarly, anxiety is much more than just stress. It is also caused by disturbed levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. The medical basis of both anxiety and depression make them actual mental illnesses that need therapy and even pharmacological intervention.
The stigma surrounding mental illnesses is imminent in Pakistan. Socioeconomic wellbeing is affected not only because of the illness itself but because of how the society reacts to it.
The solution: education.
Sadly, the answer isn’t as simple as a 9-letter word. Education needs time and shattering generations-built myths and taboos need courage. Starting from an individual level and spreading the right knowledge among those around you is what can make the stigma around mental illnesses a little less burdensome.