As Nigeria joins the rest of the global community to commemorate World Schizophrenia Day, a global annual health event celebrated on every 24 May, members of the Association of Hospital and Administrative Pharmacists of Nigeria (AHAPN) have urged Nigerians to desist from stigmatising people suffering from the condition, saying Schizophrenia is not communicable.
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder which predisposes individuals to exhibit symptoms affecting emotion, thought, perception, behavior, speech and motor activity. These symptoms include abnormal experiences such as hallucinations mostly auditory or visual but can also occur in other sensory modalities such as smell and touch. Experts say 1.86 million Nigerians are living with the condition, which is however treatable.
The pharmacists, who converged at the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) Lagos State Secretariat Ogudu, in company of seasoned psychiatrists as panelists, enlightened residents of the area in attendance at the panel discussion on the symptoms of the condition and when they are expected to seek medical attention if they discover any of the signs of the illness in their system.
Speaking on the theme of the programme, “Schizophrenia: Demystifying age-long myths” the keynote speaker, Pharm. (Mrs) Olawunmi Peters, shredded most of the myths and unfounded beliefs about the condition, saying many patients who receive treatment are able to function well in the society and build careers especially when they are compliant with their medications and therapy sessions.
She decried several factors limiting the management of Schizophrenia in the country, such as the doctor patient ratio which is 1:2753, with only eight federal mental health institutions in a country of about 200 million people, which can barely meet the mental health needs of our teeming population. She also noted the need for the creation of more sensitization on the condition, which will help to educate the masses.
“People ascribed a lot of mysticism, spirituality and traditional myths to the condition. Years after, these myths have refused to budge even with updated knowledge and scientific breakthrough in the management of schizophrenia. Even now, our society still thinks of individuals living with schizophrenia as having multiple personalities, violent and dangerous, as being lazy or not smart. These could not be further from the truth. A patient suffering from schizophrenia would only be violent when he is in the acute phase of the illness. And this usually happens when the condition remains untreated.
“Can you imagine how disconcerting it can be when your life experience or reality is doubted by everyone around you and no matter how much you try to explain that you hear these voices, they insist that you are unwell? Yet you have no fever, no headache, no body pain or any other measurable signs. This is the reality of so many schizophrenic patients and we can’t blame them for their condition because they did not choose to have schizophrenia.
“Have you ever been told that if a person with mental illness spits on you, you’d automatically have a mental illness? This is a lie from the pit of hell. There is no truth in it. Schizophrenia is not communicable. It is not transferable. Schizophrenia is not COVID-19. If it were, all those working with these patients would have gotten by now, wouldn’t they?” she explained.
Consultant Clinical Psychologist, and Head of Psychology Department, Federal Neuropsychiatrist Hospital, Yaba, Dr Taiwo Ajirotutu, a panelist made some salient points on the ailment stating that Schizophrenia can be genetically triggered or through other psychosocial factors like depression, academic stress, financial challenges, use of substances, among others, but assured patients of recovery through medication.
In agreement with the keynote speaker, he charged the community to stop stigmatising people living with Schizophrenia as anyone irrespective of status can become sick of the disease.” We have professionals like medical doctors, nurses, accountants, politicians, and others who have been treated of the condition and they are back to their various offices doing well. Let us be supportive of Schizophrenia patients”, he urged.
Another panelist, Pharm.(Mrs) Oyinlade Kehinde, lamented medication non-adherence in more than half of the patients, as one of the major challenges of people living with the condition. She went further to identify causes of medication non-adherence in patients such as forgetfulness, lack of insight, lack of family support, cost of medication, long-time management of the condition, to mention a few.
Fielding questions from journalists on the progress path for people living with Schizophrenia, the National Chairman, AHAPN, Dr Kingsley Amibor, urged government to wade into the situation of most patients who lack access to medication due to financial constraints, to as a matter of urgency consider the inclusion of most medication for mental health disorder on the National Health Insurance Scheme list.
He said “the government can offer support to patients by upgrading the National Health Insurance Scheme to include most of the prescribed medications for the ailment. Right now most of the mental health medications are not on the list. Once this is done, patients will just have to pay 10 per cent of the amount, and through this intervention, the issue of relapse will be reduced”.
In his own contribution, Pharm. Oyetunde Ajayi, chairman, Educartion and Training Committee, AHAPN, and deputy director of Pharmacy Department, Federal Neuropsychiatrist Hospital, Yaba, corrobated the views of other speakers on the disorder, emphasing the need for the society to stop stigmatisation of people living with the condition. He acknowledged generally that more than 50 per cent of people have the possibility of developing Schizophrenia, so there is no need shaming people about it.
“Generally misconception of the condition is what people refer to as madness. Schizophrenia is just a part of mental health disorder, there are other mental health disorders. Some symptoms of the condition are hallucination, seeing things other people are not seeing, smelling what others are not smelling. All these symptoms could be as a result of the elevation of some chemicals in the brain, and once these chemical are regulated, the person comes back to normal.
“People stigmatise patients because they don’t know it is treatable. We recognise the fact that this condition can be treated. The word madness came through stigmatization of those with this mental condition. But as it has been said by many speakers today, we have professional, doctors, nurses, politicians who have this condition, they shouldn’t be stigmatized. Their condition only deteriorate if left for a long time without care”, he stated.