Medical experts have said that hearing strange voices and seeing unusual things is not ‘madness’, as many Nigerians assume, noting that it is a symptom of schizophrenia, a medical condition that affects a person’s ability to think, feel and behave properly.
The experts also stated that a recent study suggested that about 1.86 million people suffer from schizophrenia in Nigeria.
The experts were reacting to recent reports that hardship and frustrations are fuelling schizophrenia and other mental health challenges in the country.
According to the experts, a recent study by the World Health Organisation has confirmed that schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder affecting 20 million people worldwide.
The health condition, they said, is characterised by distortions in thinking, perception, emotions and language, as well as hallucinations and delusions.
Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, the Director of Pharmacy and Head of Department, Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital in Yaba, Mrs. Olawunmi Peters, disclosed that a recent research has suggested that about 1.86 million people suffer from schizophrenia in Nigeria.
She explained that people with schizophrenia require lifelong treatment. Peters said:
“The person with this disorder hears and sees things in clear consciousness, which other people can’t hear or see. In some cases patients may exhibit a deficit of functions such as lack of motivation, reduced speech, social withdrawal, or bluntness of effect.”
She recalled a particular patient who strongly believed that her first son used a hammer to drive nails into her skull every day. She added that, even in the face of contrary evidence, the woman refused to believe otherwise.
“The patient would often be seen laughing to herself for no reason, and at times becomes very angry, telling her friends that her family wanted her dead. At some point, she became restless and suspicious and refused to eat for days.
“She also described hearing voices abusing her and discussing her actions; and no matter how much you tried to talk her out of it, she was still experiencing these distressing symptoms,”
The director noted that a patient suffering from schizophrenia can only become violent when he or she is in the acute phase of the illness. She added:
“And this usually happens when the condition remains untreated. Many patients who receive treatment are actually able to function well in society and build careers, especially when they are compliant with their medications and therapy sessions.
“Can you imagine how disconcerting it can be when your live 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.”
Peters further stated that, with adequate interventions from the clinical psychiatrists, pharmacists, nurses, psychologists, occupational therapists and social workers, individuals with schizophrenia can live a normal life.
A consultant clinical pharmacist and National Chairman, Association of Hospital and Administrative Pharmacists of Nigeria, Dr. Kingsley Amibor, disclosed that in a population of over 200 million, Nigeria accounts for 100,000 new cases of schizophrenia on yearly basis.
“It is often triggered in late adolescent age, around 19 to 20 years. Some may not be detected till they are in their early 30s, with symptoms like false belief (illusion), hallucination, while some have fixed mindsets. There is nothing you can tell them that they will believe.
“Also, 48 percent of identical twins risk having schizophrenia. We are not saying all the children will have it but there is a risk that some will have it and environmental factors and viral infections play a role,”
His view was corroborated by the Deputy Director in charge of Pharmacy at FNPH, Yaba, Dr. OyetunjiAjayi. Ajayi disclosed that drug abuse or long-time substance use might trigger schizophrenia.
“This condition can be treated or reversed. Schizophrenia is not a direct cause of death for anybody but the condition might get worse if they don’t get the required treatment or medication.
“Where I work, we have over 50,000 new cases annually. In the times of COVID-19, we had an average of 10-15 new cases daily and this is because it is people that know that the condition is treatable that come for treatment,”