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Take schizophrenia for example. It is a severe mental disorder that affects around 1 per cent of the population worldwide, with the most common age of onset being between 15 and 35. People with schizophrenia exhibit symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, disorganised speech and a loss of motivation and interest. Pang says that if the family carer does not understand the illness, it is easy for arguments to develop and blow up.

“The illness makes people have lower motivation to finish the tasks they are told to do, like cleaning themselves, taking their medicine,” says Pang. When this is met with the carers’ demand for compliance and obedience, disputes can erupt.

Lily Chan, whose daughter has schizophrenia was once a controlling and demanding carer. Chan’s daughter was in Form Four when the symptoms of the illness began to emerge – first, she refused to go to school and was expelled. Then, at home, she started to talk to herself occasionally. Chan took her to see a doctor and she was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1993.

Lily Chan says her love for her daughter overcomes all
Lily Chan says her love for her daughter overcomes all

But for the first seven years after the diagnosis, Chan did not fully accept the reality of her daughter’s condition. Neither did she know how to communicate with her well. Whenever Chan’s daughter refused to comply with her instructions, she would scold her severely and they would start quarrelling. Chan distanced herself from friends and family as she felt ashamed whenever people asked about her daughter’s condition.

“People have misunderstandings about mental illness, that it is the result of evil deeds committed by the family. I didn’t dare talk to anyone about it,” she says.

It was not until the family experienced a traumatic accident that Chan and her husband were jolted out of denial and finally learned to take the initiative in dealing with the condition.

Their daughter had been occasionally refusing or reducing her medication and this triggered a re-emergence of the illness in 2000. One day, after tidying up her daughter’s room, Chan told her sternly not to mess it up again. Her daughter was very angry, picked up a knife and stabbed her mother in the head.

Luckily, Chan survived. “Looking back, this [stabbing] is a blessing in disguise. Since then, I have learnt to seek help from the community,” she says.

After the incident, Chan and her husband began to seek assistance by consulting social workers and clinical psychologists. They learned to appreciate and praise their daughter, and to avoid criticisms. By taking a different perspective, she was able to understand the incident, to build trust and to find hope.

“She was too angry and simply wanted to protect herself, though she didn’t know how to control her emotions,” she now says of her daughter’s actions.