Schizophrenics have been attracting public attention. Recently, people's fears have grown because of shocking crimes by schizophrenics. They are so incendiary that people are angry about criminals, but we're missing something now. Why do such terrible incidents continue to occur these days? It is more important to prevent such crimes than to punish criminals. Therefore, I would like to look into how schizophrenia is currently managed in Korea and what is really needed for schizophrenics.
1. What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that causes mental confusion. This is a comparatively common disease, known to be a disease that onsets one among a hundred people. It can develop in anyone and is chronic, beginning from the late teens to 20s. The exact causes haven’t been discovered yet, but medical academia attributes the causes to the brain's organic abnormality.
The brain releases numerous neurotransmitters that control actions, emotions, and behaviors, which transmit information among cells, and schizophrenics have symptoms when a substance called dopamine has a trouble during the neurotransmitter process in a certain area of the brain. The occurrence of schizophrenia progresses slowly and the main symptoms are hallucinations, delusions, and abnormal behaviors. They also show inappropriate expressions, such as laughing out in serious or sad situations. Alternatively, some people are unemotional, and do not openly express feelings of happiness or sadness.
2. Social awareness of schizophrenia and schizophrenic crimes
What do people think about schizophrenia? Many people might take a negative stand. Bad perceptions of schizophrenia may have arisen owing to the brutal criminal behaviors of schizophrenics. The murder at Gangnam Station on May 17, 2016 and the arson and murder case of Jinju on April 17, 2019 are typical violent crimes committed by schizophrenics. The terrible consequences of the crime, the criminals' bizarre behaviors and remarks, including the brutal killing of a woman in a karaoke bathroom by someone under a persecutory delusion of women, and brandishing a weapon after setting fire to his own house, would have led the public to form negative images of schizophrenia.
Due to the occurrence of these negative crimes, the media used the schizophrenia as the main cause of the crime. The titles of articles with negative views often used the expressions like ‘schizophrenia’, ‘a mental patient’, ‘the mentally disabled’ and the articles also emphasized the diagnosis or treatment history of schizophrenia or expressed the worries of repeated crime. Of course, because they were terrible crimes, some provocative expressions can be used. However, these reports might render the public misunderstand the characteristics of all schizophrenics. There is a danger that the public might feel fear or disgust at schizophrenics. People may be outraged or frightened at the brutal crimes, but it should not be extended to all schizophrenics.
3. How do patients with schizophrenia become time bombs?
Today, more and more people have concerns about schizophrenic crimes and prejudices about schizophrenics. However, schizophrenics are not always dangerous. Experts say that if properly treated in the right time, schizophrenics can live a social life without any problems just like ordinary people. Nevertheless, many patients with schizophrenia are neglected without being properly treated. The number of patients treated with schizophrenia in the country was estimated 120,070 in 2017. However, since the prevalence rate of schizophrenia is estimated to be 1 percent of the world's population, the actual number of schizophrenics in Korea is estimated to be more than half a million. Accordingly, the number of patients that are out of control is estimated to be around 400,000 people. The current situation is like a time bomb that can go off anytime. Although hidden patients should initially be managed through quick care, the spread of negative images of schizophrenia makes it difficult for patients to approach treatment. This only makes the patients’ condition worse. Reactions from the media and the public will stigmatize people with schizophrenia and mental illness. These stigma render the public reluctant to make personal relationships with the patients and give them negative impressions of the mental institutions being built in their neighborhood. And patients who have been stigmatized tend to abandon their will to overcome schizophrenia. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare (2017), 60.7 percent of schizophrenics have never used mental health services in their lifetime. The reason was that 41.2 percent of them were worried that their disease might be discovered by others. For the patients, this negative social perception is like a big wall surrounding them. Because of this, missing the right time for treatment makes a repetitious vicious cycle, which eventually leads to tragic events.
4. Status of managing domestic schizophrenics and their problems
The problems faced by schizophrenics in Korea are not just the social stigma mentioned above. Currently, medical treatments and protection facilities for schizophrenics are extremely deficient. Also, it is necessary to reconsider whether the current involuntary admission system and drug-oriented treatment methods are effective in treating patients.
Let’s find out the current state of infrastructure for the domestic mental patients. There are 237 mental health and welfare centers across the country but several local governments have not installed them. In addition, in the centers, people who manage cases of severe mental illness are four people in average, which means 60 patients are managed by one person. The number of patients that one person has to manage is too many, so it is difficult to properly manage and find new patients. And 348 mental rehabilitation facilities are installed across the country to help mentally patients return to society, but 179 of them are concentrated in the capital area, which is a big problem. The ratio of basic local governments without the facility was reported to be 45.6 percent. Also, the nation's mental rehabilitation facilities are available for 4.7 persons per 100,000 persons. It shows the insufficient number of mental rehabilitation facilities compared to other foreign countries. The situation is very poor compared with 54.9 in Austria, 15.3 in Japan and 15.2 in the United States. The poor reality of such treatment and care facilities in Korea is not enough to protect patients.
There is also a lack of care for inpatients. Patients with experiences of hospitalization reportedly described a hospital as a prison where they only take medicine and sleep. Besides regular medication, counseling or rehabilitation programs are not provided sufficiently. It also lacks follow-up measures and management for patients who have gone out to the society due to the shortage of treatment, counseling and rehabilitation programs.
Was the schizophrenic crime uncontrollable and unpredictable? Schizophrenic crime is a social problem caused by the lack of management system in our society, not simply an unexpected deviation of individuals. It is too risky for individuals to treat schizophrenia on their own. The national management and protection system should be well formed as soon as possible, which would reduce horrific crimes and change public perceptions. In order to break the vicious cycle of schizophrenia problem, the appropriate measures will have to be provided to patients who are currently in need of help. Hopefully they will come back to our society and lead a smooth life.< Copyright © The Gachon Herald All rights reserved >