Complex Made Simple

Research projects underway to aid diagnosis and treatment of Schizophrenia in Qatar

Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) is working with Weill Cornell Medical College – Qatar (WCMC-Q) on a number of research projects which aim to improve how schizophrenia is diagnosed and treated in the country.

Dr. Suhaila Ghuloum, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist at HMC, and Dr. Hassen Al-Amin, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at WCMC-Q, said that improving science gaps in mental health care through new research is vital to the development of evidence-based solutions; and in turn, bringing the safest, most effective and compassionate care to those in need.

“The research areas we are focusing on, such as making the tools for schizophrenia assessment more culturally relevant, reviewing the side effects of medication, analyzing the impact of patient satisfaction, and studying the quality of life and the needs of people who are diagnosed, will allow us to collect essential data. This data will facilitate service improvement plans to ensure individuals with schizophrenia receive optimal care,” explains Dr. Ghuloum.

The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day, recognized annually on October 10, was ‘Living with Schizophrenia’. Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness which affects between one and three percent of the population worldwide; it usually presents between the ages of 15 and 35.

“The symptoms experienced by a person with schizophrenia may present as hallucinations, hearing or seeing things that do not exist, delusional beliefs and disorganized thoughts. They can be very distressing,” says Dr. Ghuloum.

“People affected may find it difficult to continue in their job or may find functioning as part of their usual family environment difficult; it is for this reason that people need the support and understanding of the community,” adds Dr. Ghuloum.

Dr. Al-Amin highlights that schizophrenia is generally regarded as one of the most misunderstood mental health conditions.

“Having a clear understanding of what the condition is goes a long way. The problem is that most people do not understand what schizophrenia is. This is largely due to years of misrepresentation in the media. As a result, there is a high level of stigma surrounding it,” explains Dr. Al-Amin.

Dr. Al-Amin adds that schizophrenia is not the presence of a split personality or multiple personalities. He says the incorrect association between these things contributes massively to the stigma of the condition. “People with schizophrenia are not any more likely to display violent behavior than the general population. In reality, they are more at risk of harming themselves or being abused by others,” says Dr. Al-Amin.

In talking about the causes of schizophrenia, Dr. Al-Amin is keen to dispel the idea that it can be caused by environmental factors. “A child cannot develop schizophrenia as a result of being treated badly by his or her parents, or as a result of reading certain books or watching certain films,” he explains.

“While environmental factors could contribute to a relapse, the causes of the condition are organic; they occur naturally within the make-up of the brain. Schizophrenia can also be inherited; individuals with a family history of the condition are at a higher risk of being affected,” explains Dr. Al-Amin.

“Having schizophrenia does not mean the end of quality living. People with schizophrenia do recover and with proper treatment many people are able to manage their condition and maintain a good quality of life,” says Dr. Ghuloum.

Dr. Ghuloum explains that no person is immune to mental health issues. “Mental illnesses are not things that happen to other people – they can affect any one of us. As such, we have a moral obligation to be understanding of them and to offer help and support wherever we can,” she explains.

Any person who is experiencing symptoms of a mental health issue should seek immediate treatment by making an appointment to see a doctor, who will then refer them to HMC’s specialist services. In an emergency situation, call 999 for an ambulance or present to the Emergency Department.