, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 134-140

Beliefs about causation of schizophrenia: Do Indian families believe in supernatural causes?

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Background: Beliefs about the causation of schizophrenia could influence the attitudes patients' families adopt towards the patient and may also influence their help-seeking behaviour. Indian families have been typically described as often believing in causes like supernatural forces and therefore seeking help from magico-religious healers. In the changing mental health scenario in India, this impression needs verification. Method: Key relatives living with 254 chronic schizophrenia patients were interviewed and asked to name the causes they believed were behind the illness. A list of possible causes was provided for the families to select from, and relatives were also encouraged to mention other possible causes, not featured in the list. The possible causes identified and the factors related to attributions made were analysed. Results: A supernatural cause was named by only 12% of the families and as the only cause by 5%. Psychosocial stress was most commonly cited cause, followed by personality defect and heredity. A small number of families (14%) could not name any cause and 39% named more than one cause. Patient gender and education, duration of illness and the key relative's education and the nature of relationship were related to the type of causal attributions made. Conclusion: Families living with patients suffering chronic schizophrenia receiving treatment in urban India rarely subscribe to the idea of supernatural causation of the illness. The causal attributions made by them are fairly rational and understandable, given the relative lack of exposure to proper information about the illness.

Accepted: 29 November 2000