Schizophrenia is very real in the Caribbean

SchizophreniaPeople living with mental disorders see the world differently from those living without. One cause of misconceptions of reality is the mental health disorder known as schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a brain disorder which impacts the way a person functions daily, especially with their behaviour, thoughts and perception of the world. Schizophrenia patients tend to isolate themselves from the world or behave inappropriately as a result of fear or confusion. They may have beliefs that the world is out to inflict danger to them, they isolate themselves from the world or their speech may be expressed strangely.

The ‘Epidemiology of Mental Health Issues in the Caribbean’ written by Abel et al. also touches on the conditions of a patient, saying that they are manifested in the form of hallucinations and delusions, difficulties in expressing thoughts and behaving out of context of societal and cultural norms.  In light of this, their line between reality and imagination is blurred and they find it very hard to decipher between the two.

Although this illness is chronic, help is readily available to treat patients with schizophrenia and with support, therapy and medication, they are able to function and carry out their daily lives. Most common cases appear in late teenage years or early adulthood but can also evolve in middle age or later. Unfortunately, the earlier the development of the illness, the more severe it is and this has been seen in rare child and adolescent cases.

Here are some of the common symptoms and signs of prospective schizophrenia patients:

○          Hostility or suspiciousness
○          Depression
○          Inappropriate laughing or crying
○          Strange use of words or way of speaking
○          Forgetfulness of recent activities or events
○          Inability to concentrate or focus
○          Oversleeping or insomnia
○          Hallucinations
○          Delusions
○          Social withdrawal or isolation
○          Inability to express emotions such as sadness or joy
○          Deterioration of personal hygiene
○          Odd irrational statements
○          Expressionless gaze
○          Extreme reaction to criticism

Dr. F. Hickling in his article entitled ‘The epidemiology of schizophrenia and other common mental health disorders in the English-speaking Caribbean’, found that “the age-corrected incidence rate for schizophrenia per 10 000 is 2.09 in Jamaica, 2.2 per 1000 in Trinidad, and 2.92 in Barbados.” Abel et al added that the aforementioned rate of incidence of the illness has been more or less fairly consistent across a number of Caribbean countries (Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and Suriname). However, rates are higher in the smaller islands like Dominica, which Abel et al posited that the occurrence is due to persons living with mental illnesses are unable to migrate and are more likely to return to their homeland if living in a host country.

The article written by Lewin entitled ‘Schizophrenia epidemic among African Caribbeans spurs prevention policy change’, describes the high incidence rate in previous years however as “nothing short of an epidemic”. This claim was supported by the statistics from the major study which found that the African Caribbean community are nine times more susceptible to being diagnosed and suffer from schizophrenia than people in the white community. From the same article, Julian Leff, emeritus professor at the Institute of Psychiatry, commented that a programme of social engineering needed to be implemented in order to “strengthen family structures in the African Caribbean community, with a view to keeping children in stable families.”


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The decreases in schizophrenia patients are probably as a result of incidents going unreported or prospective patients not being diagnosed. Also, the occurrence could be due to more advanced treatment being readily available to patients than previous years.

Stressful circumstances prove difficult for persons living with mental illnesses, as their ability to carry on the daily functioning become strained as these conditions progress. That is why treatment and support of mental illness, especially schizophrenia is an integral part of a patient’s ability to recover and regain their ability to function effectively.

By Alexandra Daley

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