6 June 2024

With increased awareness, people with schizophrenia could live in an understanding society, leading to greater inclusion, said Kruawon Tiengtom, a psychosocial disability advocate and former president of Living Association, speaking on World Schizophrenia Awareness Day.

“Awareness must be raised among all sectors of society, including the patients themselves, employers and the general public,” said Kruawon.

The government plays a crucial role in spearheading this effort, as it involves multiple sectors, she told Thai PBS World.

Education is important, starting at school, covering various aspects of the illness, its effects on patients and society, rehabilitation and reintegration into society, said Kruawon.

She noted that, in Thailand, people’s views of people with schizophrenia have improved, saying that there is greater understanding and empathy. In the past they were often stigmatised as “lunatics”.

The good news for Thailand is that, due to the advocacy efforts of psychosocial networks, schizophrenia is now covered by social security, and the restrictions of the Office of the Civil Service Commission (OCSC) on hiring people with psychosis and mood disorders have been lifted.

Meanwhile marking the World Schizophrenia Awareness Day, Dr Suttha Supanya, Secretary General of the Psychiatric Association of Thailand said, “I wish for society to reduce the stigma surrounding schizophrenia, support access to effective treatment and build a welcoming community.”

Every May 24, World Schizophrenia Awareness Day is observed worldwide. The primary objective is to raise awareness about the illness and eradicate myths and misconceptions about mental health issues.

The term “schizophrenia” was coined in 1910 by Swiss psychiatrist Dr Paul Eugen Bleuler. It literally means “a splitting of the mind.” This disorder is caused by a combination of genetic, environmental and brain chemistry factors, impacting how a person thinks, feels and behaves.

Symptoms include confused thinking, delusions, hallucinations and difficulties in managing emotions and social interactions.

This year, in Thailand, it has been reported that approximately 0.8% to 1% of the population is affected by schizophrenia, which is equivalent to 580,000 to 655,000 individuals.

The onset of the illness typically occurs in early adulthood or late adolescence, between the ages of 16 and 25, with a slightly higher prevalence among males.

The doctor explained that historically, schizophrenia was perceived globally as a chronic disorder, with little chance of recovery.

With advancements in medical sciences, however, one in three people with schizophrenia can recover and function normally,

“The perspectives of doctors towards the illness significantly influences their patients’ well-being and ability to participate in society,” said Suttha, who is also a psychiatrist at the Somdet Chaopraya Institute of Psychiatry.

If doctors believe in their patients’ potential for recovery, functionality and societal integration, they are more likely to achieve these outcomes, he added.

“I believe schizophrenia is just another health challenge. With proper treatment, rehabilitation and support, people with the illness can overcome their challenges and become meaningful contributors to society,” said the doctor.

Thailand does, however, still face significant challenges regarding employment opportunities for people with schizophrenia, due to the limited perceptions of many employers, who often focus on the illness, rather than the person’s potential.

“Employers sometimes overlook the real talents of those with schizophrenia and only see their illness, creating obstacles to job opportunities,” Dr Suttha added.

by Neeranuch Kunakorn