Mental illnesses, especially schizophrenia, are often chronic illnesses. And like many other chronic illnesses, it’s not just those with the illness who struggle; the burden of care takes its own toll on the caregivers too. Caregiver stress, when it comes to mental illnesses has been largely overlooked and goes unaddressed. What we can’t escape from is the fact that caregivers go through everything from socioeconomic to emotional to psychological, to even health related issues due to this burden. This burden, however, can be shared through support systems – social support that can be given through large connected families, through friend circles, through communities, and by society at large. What we need is to have a higher level of empathy when it comes to dealing with such patients and their families. One of the problems we grapple with as a country when it comes to addressing mental health concerns is a great deficit in mental health professionals when compared to countries. We just don’t have the resources, at present, to deal with the growing burden of mental illness.  This problem can be addressed, however, and somewhere along the line, the solution lies in training more people – be it general physicians, or volunteers with NGOs. At the same time, private healthcare needs to step up and start playing a significant role. This public – private partnership needs to happen. Hospitals need to have integrated mental health services so that we look at not just de-stigmatization but at the same time increase accessibility to mental health care across the board. I also feel that, we as a community, need to give far greater emphasis to preventive healthcare, rather than simply focusing on treatment. Schizophrenia is, by far, one of the most misunderstood mental health conditions in society. While, the media has already begun to play a role, there’s still a long way to go in terms of creating awareness and reaching out to the community at large, because it is early identification that holds the key to early and effective treatment. On this world mental health day, let’s look not just to treat people suffering but also to improve the resilience of the community and help the families and caregivers of those struggling with the illness as well. Let’s stay away from judgment, and instead focus on our sense of social responsibility, and more importantly, compassion for those battling mental illness on a day to day basis.

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