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Healthcare Delivery

Introduction to Psychiatric Conditions

By Dr Kiran Manduva

Mental health is an often ignored aspect of overall health. It is a truism that there is no health without mental health. In fact, mental health is so crucial to one’s overall well being that a physically disabled or otherwise afflicted person can still be a happy and productive member of society if his mental health is taken care of. There are many examples of such people who ‘ve beaten tremendous odds in life to come up and make their mark on society. That is simply not possible without a robust psychological state of being. Thus, despite health being a holistic entity, if I had to choose, I will place psychological health a notch above physical health.

Instead of going into technical details and statistics, I will try to present a bird’s eye view of the problem at hand. At the risk of sounding simplistic, I will divide the psychological disorders into six groups, for the purposes of the present article. These are

  1. Major psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression etc.
  2.  Minor psychological conditions including anxiety, minor depressions, stress-related conditions,
  3. Personality disorders, marital discord.
  4. Substance abuse including tobacco chewing and smoking, alcohol addiction, cannabis abuse etc.
  5. Neuro-developmental disorders like Mental retardation, autism, ADHD, SLD
  6. Dementias especially Alzheimer’s disease.

The above is an informal classification presented here for the sole purpose of simplifying the subject matter for the laypeople so that a better understanding of the issue can be achieved. This is not meant to an exhaustive list and some of the rarer conditions are not covered in the classification. These categories are not watertight and many conditions span the different groups based on their severity and other variables. Often, a person can suffer from multiple conditions from different groups because psychological disorders are not discrete entities, as categorised below. Rather, psychological disturbance can manifest itself in multiple ways and quite often in more than one form, simultaneously, in the same person.

Below, I shall dwell upon each of these groups of disorders in brief- how they arise, how they impact the person and how they can be treated.

The disorders in the first category, the major psychiatric disorders, like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression etc can loosely be termed ’psychoses’, in which, the person develops delusions and hallucinations, which cause him to lose touch with reality. These disorders usually have a heavy genetic component and also depend on the maternal health (especially fevers etc) when the patient was ‘in utero’. These can normally be treated only with medication with adequate psychological, social and occupational support for reintegration into the society. In many cases, the patient may need to be on the medications for a fairly long period of time.

The second category, the minor psychological conditions like anxiety, depression and stress related conditions arise mainly due to two reasons. One – as a genetic accompaniment to major psychiatric disorders that someone else is suffering from in the larger family. Two – due to various interpersonal issues, family disharmony and social conditions like school and work related stresses, poverty, unemployment etc. Many of these patients need a variable period of treatment with psychological medicines that ameliorate the neurotic symptoms. These conditions can also be treated with better coping skills, self empowerment, breathing exercises, Yoga etc. Once the person is better, the medicines can be slowly tapered off and allow the natural defences of the person to deal with the issue.

The third category is that of personality disorders and its consequences. These are people who have a particular pattern of seeing themselves or relating to others, and many times, these might result in interpersonal disharmony and suffering to either the patient himself or to the others. A frequent cause of marital discord is the existence of some traits of any personality disorder in one or both the partners. Many violent crimes, including domestic violence, child sexual abuse and other criminal violence can also be due to personality disorders in the perpetrator. This often needs a comprehensive approach including medication, counselling and the intervention of other agencies like child care services and law enforcement services including the police

The fourth category is that of substance abuse. There is a steep hike in the number of people addicted to various substances like nicotine (smoking tobacco), alcohol and cannabis. The youth of the society are more prone to it due to their innate impulsive and rebellious nature of their behaviour. This can result in significant damage to ones long term health and productivity, apart from causing family disharmony. This needs treatment with medication, counselling and in many cases a relatively long period of treatment in a rehab centre.

The fifth category is that of neurodevelopmental disorders that afflict children right from their very early age. This is due to the altered brain structure and includes conditions like mental retardation, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, specific learning disability. These children have a different trajectory of development of milestones, behavioural and academic problems. They need lot of intensive psychological intervention.

The sixth category is that of dementias, the most common being Alzheimers dementia. This is a disorder of the elderly brain degenerating and is more prevalent in the community as the proportion of the elderly increases in the society. It is a problem that is only going to increase in the country and needs lot of family support, medication and institutional old age care.

It is imperative that any person suffering from any kind of emotional or behavioral problem approach a mental health professional without delay or stopping oneself due to the stigma normally attached to psychological conditions. With proper treatment, many are able to lead a near-normal and productive social and occupational life. The public health strategies for different conditions need to be tailored to the particular subgroup of disorders and is an uphill task for the country to ensure the availability and effective delivery of health care services to all the needy.

About the author

Dr Kiran Manduva did his MBBS in 2001 and studied Psychiatry from NIMHANS in 2005. He is interested in deaddiction, psychotherapy for victims of sexual abuse and neuroscience. He is especially interested in novel public health approaches to make psychiatric care accessible to all.