Troubled minds

In spite of a National Mental Health Programme being in place, very few people suffering from mental illnesses in India get treatment, either because of ignorance or the social stigma attached. A few case studies:

Published: Tuesday 06 August 2013


  1. For the past three years, every month Jagat Ram travels from Hapur district of Uttar Pradesh to Delhi’s Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS) to fetch medicines for his younger sister. She suffers from depression, the most common mental illness in the country. “It all began at her in-laws’ place. She used to complain of torture,” recalls the 35-year-old. In 2007, after losing her newborn she slipped into shock. It was a crushing blow to her already shaky marriage. She became quiet, stopped doing household chores, did not care for her appearance and even stopped bathing. Instead of getting her treated, her in-laws would accuse her of acting out to garner attention. Her condition continued to deteriorate. That’s when Jagat Ram forcibly brought her back home. For almost a year, he spent money on costly private treatment in his native place. But she showed no sign of improvement. It was by chance that the family brought her to IHBAS. She is now on the road to recovery. “We now have to keep her away from negative thoughts,” Jagat says. “Though I still spend money on travel and take frequent leaves from office, it’s worth it.”
  2. In a tribal village in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh, 19-year-old Sanju displays symptoms of depression. His father, Ratan Singh believes he is under the spell of evil spirits. Sanju was fine till two years ago. Then his behaviour suddenly changed. He stopped responding to calls and did not even care for himself. He would cry for no reason. In the past two years, Ratan Singh and his wife have travelled several times to the Baba Dongar temple atop a hill, hoping that god would cure Sanju. They also promised to sacrifice cocks at the temple if Sanju showed improvement. Though the boy is yet to show any sign of improvement, the couple dared not break their promise. Baba Dongar is their only hope. When asked why he does not take Sanju to a doctor, a bewildered Ratan Singh says Sanju does not have any health problem. And he is not the only one to believe so. Kalu Singh Bamanai, a photographer of Samni village who earns his livelihood by taking photos of the pilgrims at the temple, says every day five to 10 families, even educated ones, visit the shrine, hoping their mentally ill relatives would be cured.
  3. Thirty-year-old Tamanna lives a life of rejection. Last year, her husband and his family brought her to Indore Mental Hospital. Doctors diagnosed her with bipolar disorder and admitted her to hospital. Within a couple of months, they declared her healthy and asked her family to take her back home. But no one wanted to take her back. Tamanna kept writing to her family for six months, but there was no response. Even her mother did not respond. Finally, the hospital administration had no choice but to shift Tamanna to a nearby shelter home with due permission of the Chief Judicial Magistrate.

    Tamanna is not the only one who has been ostracised because of mental illness. A warden at the hospital, who did not wish to be named, says she has witnessed at least 12 such cases in the past two years where family members refused to take back their wards even after doctors certified complete recovery. More often than not women face institutionalisation and desertion. Indore Mental Hospital alone has more than 40 women inmates compared to 20-odd men.
  4. I was moving up in the world. As an ambitious young business promoter in the healthcare industry, I had a bright career ahead of me. I was happily married for eight years and was blessed with two beautiful daughters. But at the age of 32, I suddenly started getting panic attacks. The first time I had the attack, I was jolted awake in the middle of the night, doused in sweat. There was an ice cold sensation in my chest. An unknown fear overpowered me. My wife, with the help of a neighbour, took me to a hospital in Gurgaon. The doctors overruled any cardiac or other related problems. But the sensation kept getting worse. My doctor friends asked me to see a psychiatrist.

    I was lucky enough to be educated, have disposable income and time to get help. A young psychiatrist in Gurgaon started my treatment with anti-depressants and counselling. But my friends in the healthcare industry discouraged me from anti-depressants. They said a headstrong person like me could not be depressed. I had always felt the same. Perhaps I was wrong; they were wrong.

    Although what triggered my panic attack remained a mystery, I started feeling better. I thought I had recovered and stopped medication on my own. Over the next few months I changed job and moved to Ahmedabad. New challenges and more salary kept me busy. Then one night, I again felt the cold sensation in my chest and was sweating profusely. I rushed to a physician. Based on my history, he advised me to see a psychiatrist. I was back to square one. My new psychiatrist was a renowned one.

    On an average, he was seeing 100 patients a day. He did not have time for me. His juniors took my details and prescribed medication, which I disliked. So I changed the doctor. I told him I want to reduce my dependence on medicines. He prescribed me fewer medicines and advised me to go to a psychotherapist. A psychotherapist is not a doctor, but a trained professional who helps increase an individual’s sense of wellbeing through therapeutic interaction and counseling.

    My 50-year-old psychotherapist has a couch. I lie down and share all my fears, feelings, daily experiences and talk for an hour. I feel relaxed and stress-free after the session. There are days when I would look down from my apartment on the 9th floor and get thoughts of committing suicide and get paralysed. Will I jump from this window? Can I control my legs? Should I seek help of my wife? The next day I analyse my feelings with my psychotherapist. She listens to me and guides me about the thoughts.

    I am in a process of re-discovering myself. She is my main stay these days to fight depression and feel better. Every week I attend three to four sessions with her. Practicing yoga, pranayama and walking gave me some relief but only psychotherapy has helped me.

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