PETALING JAYA: About four out of every 100, or some 1.28 million Malaysians, are suffering from schizophrenia, and this does not account for those who have yet to be diagnosed, said psychiatrist Dr Chow Soon Ken.
Chow, who is a resident psychiatrist at Hummingbird Psychological Services, a private mental health clinic, said schizophrenia is a long-standing and recurring psychiatric illness, which affects the perception, thoughts, feelings, behaviour and daily functioning of the affected individual.
“Around four per 100 individuals in Malaysia or some 1.28 million are officially diagnosed with schizophrenia. However, the number is likely to be much higher as many remain undiagnosed. The risk of an individual having schizophrenia increases if a family member has it.”
He said the most effective treatment for schizophrenia is a combination of medication known as anti-psychotics and psychosocial therapy.
Psychosocial therapy may help to normalise thought patterns.
Learning to cope with stress and identifying early warning signs of relapse can help people with schizophrenia manage their illnesses.
Such intervention consists of psychoeducation, counselling, psychological intervention and functional rehabilitation. These are the key components for recovery from schizophrenia.
He said public perception towards those with schizophrenia has much room for improvement.
“Stigma and bias are still largely present in the community, due to a lack of knowledge and misconceptions towards schizophrenia and mental health issues overall.”
He said the number of patients with schizophrenia increased dramatically since the pandemic due to the stress of coping with life under Covid-19.
“In my experience, the number of patients with schizophrenia has increased since the pandemic. The pandemic represents a major stressor, which affects many domains of our life such as our health, finances and relationships.
“Schizophrenia usually sets in when there is an occurrence of major stress in life, especially if the illness runs in the family or those with pre-existing mental illness.”
He expressed hope that the public would learn to be more understanding towards individuals with schizophrenia and help them in their recovery and minimise any stigma or bias.
A schizophrenia patient, who declined to be named, said having the illness is difficult as not many people understand the symptoms and conditions associated with it.
She was first diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 19 and was given multiple medications to suppress the symptoms.
“When the hallucinations and voices appear to overwhelm me, that’s when I wonder if this illness has a cure because it is very challenging.
“Having any kind of mental health issue comes with its own set of discriminations. With schizophrenia, people often think that I’m crazy because I hear voices.”
She said movies and the media have made people think that schizophrenia is a “crazy-man’s disease” when in actuality it is just like any other disease that requires medication to manage the symptoms.
“For people with schizophrenia, medication is very important and must be taken daily. This is because schizophrenia affects the brain in more ways than one. Therefore, one must take the medication and trust your psychiatrist and therapist.
“Aside from that, those with schizophrenia are encouraged to undergo psychosocial therapy.”
She hopes more people will become aware of schizophrenia and how to treat their loved ones without judgement or discrimination.