March 21, 2007

European Federation Calls For More Schizophrenia Health Care and Social Programs

The European Federation of Associations of Families of People with Mental Illness (EUFAMI) has today called for a more holistic approach to the management of schizophrenia in the form of good health care and social programs, as well as basic human rights for people suffering from this chronic and disabling mental illness which up until now have largely been overlooked.

Inger Nilsson, President of EUFAMI explains, "While medication has an important role to play in the management of schizophrenia, it is not the only support system which a person with the illness requires. Locally available, effective and reliable social services which meet internationally recognized standards of treatment and care are urgently needed. This integrated approach to management targets the complete wellbeing of the person, and not just treatment to control the symptoms of schizophrenia."

A holistic approach should therefore consolidate better medical treatments with physical and mental wellbeing. In many cases, a person with schizophrenia is at greater risk of developing other serious health problems including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, infections, thyroid disease and obesity, and subsequently has a reduced life expectancy, which in some cases translates into rates of premature deaths up to three times higher than the general population.1 The person's physical health is at risk of deteriorating, however, with limited or poor health care services they do not receive the help they need. In addition, research has shown that those living with schizophrenia are less likely than people without to report physical symptoms spontaneously.2 There is a greater need for solid health care programs to recognize when a person needs care.

The illness can also have a huge impact on the person socially, as they frequently develop low self esteem, an inability to function adequately in daily activities including work, study and leisure, reduced levels of self care and difficulties in engaging with social interactions with friends and family. As a result, quality of life for people with schizophrenia can be very low, something which can be a great burden to the person, their family and carers.

Access to such health care and social regimes is a human right that every person is entitled to, regardless of whether they suffer from a mental illness, and this should be upheld and respected by society. EUFAMI is targeting the European Union and national governments to commit to real and effective integrated mental health strategies in their forthcoming policies which will be a big step forward. This step will make the Helsinki Declaration* more of a reality, in perfect timing given the expected release of the European Union's Mental Health Strategy later this year.

Equally, EUFAMI is calling on all interested parties and in particular members of the medical profession to reassess the current recovery model in schizophrenia which focuses mainly on symptom control, and incorporate holistic programs with the aim to 'treat' the whole person. In a media briefing held today, Prof Gorwood from the Hôpital Louis Mourier, Paris, confirmed that from a psychiatrist's perspective a key treatment challenge is social 'functioning' which would allow the person to return to a 'normal' life, in line with the patient and family group's perspective.

Overall, an element of re-education is required for governments, the medical profession, family, carers, the media and society on the whole to recognise and adequately care for the person behind the illness.

More information: EUFAMI Web site


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