The shocking incident of a 33-year-old mentally disturbed man bludgeoning his father to death and critically injuring his mother before smashing his own head at his east Delhi Krishna Nagar home earlier this week could have been prevented if his “mental instability” had been treated.
For that is all his family and friends can say about his illness: that he had been mentally unstable for 15 years and with periodic episodes of violence, which led him to beat up his parents.Experts say that it is likely to be a case of undiagnosed schizophrenia. "Psychiatric illnesses are biological and are triggered by chemical action in the body. These do not go away on their own, they have to be treated. Schizophrenia can be cured completely if the treatment starts in the early stages, but most people go to a doctor late or don’t go at all," said Dr Samir Parikh, chief psychiatrist, department of mental health and behavioural sciences at New Delhi’s Max Healthcare. Everyone "loses it" occasionally and mood swings are normal. But if the oddities in a person’s behaviour are so significant or sustained that they start affecting day-to-day functioning, it’s time to seek help. Negative thoughts, decline in social interaction, work output and academic performance are some early signs of depression.
Worldwide, one in five people suffer from some form of mental illness, which usually remains undiagnosed. In fact, mental health of children is very instrumental in defining their emotional and behavioural stability as an adult.
“In more than 50% of my adult patients, the root of problem lies in their childhood. If we are talking about prevention and early detection, the youth population needs to be well observed,” said Dr Rajesh Sagar, associate professor, department of psychiatry at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
One in five children face psychiatric problems, often mild. Parents and teachers should watch out for a child missing school too often, turning withdrawn, avoiding eye contact, getting cranky or aggressive. Such behaviour lasting for more than four weeks should be treated as a red flag. “The symptoms may not be triggered by a psychiatric disorder, but could be an early indication of something not normal,” added Dr Sagar.
Special projective tests designed for children — where they are asked to draw, handle toys, narrate stories etc — help psychiatrists diagnose disorders in children as young as two. Often, triggers such as stress — both emotional and physical — aggravate underlying disorders such as schizophrenia, delusion or bipolar disorders, so there is need for alertness to behavioural changes after trauma, such as bereavement or an accident.
Treatment involves counselling and drugs, with the much-maligned shock therapy being used extremely rarely, that too under anaesthesia. On an average, medicines cost up to R1,000 a month, and are usually needed for life. “A lot of people leave treatment as soon as they start getting better. That is extremely detrimental in the long run. One should be regular with prescription medicines and not miss the follow-ups,” said Dr Sagar.
(With Samar Khurshid, Aarefa Johari and Neyaz Farooquee)