Deconstructing schizophrenia among Australia’s First People

F1.medium-237x300 “Two Angels” by Suzanne Schneider

By Dr Paul Brown, The Pierre Janet Centre, Melbourne.

In my sojourn as a locum psychiatrist in rural and remote Australia, I was astonished at the rate of diagnosis of schizophrenia in indigenous populations. That condition is characterised by, “abnormal social behaviour and failure to recognize what is real,”[1] and with symptoms that include confused thinking, hallucinations, delusions, social withdrawal and emotional blunting. It is associated with increased rates of suicide and homicide. Schizophrenia is said to have been rare in the pre-colonial era. Today, in indigenous communities, mental disorder is still frequently identified as spiritual disorder.[2] It is treated by traditional healers, often concurrently, alongside Western medical practitioners.

Today schizophrenia is said to be at least as common in Aborigines as in white Australians, if not more so. It and mental illness in general, is said to be under-estimated.[3] A not insignificant proportion of psychosis is to be found in prisons. Indigenous people represent around one-quarter of Australia’s custodial population. In recent prison surveys of Aboriginal prisoners, [4] [5] the 12-month prevalence of psychotic disorders was: men, 8%; and, women, 23%. The overall prevalence of mental disorder was: 73% among men and 86% among women. Non-psychotic conditions comprised: anxiety disorders (men, 20%; women, 51%); depressive disorders (men, 11%; women, 29%); and substance misuse disorders (men, 66%; women, 69%).

Read the full article by The Stringer Independent News, 9 November 2014

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