Mumbai: Eighteen-year-old Kunal jumped to his death last August. The teenager’s middle-class parents did not know how to deal with his assertions that he was better than tennis player Leander Peas. Kunal withdrew into a shell and was put on medicines but that did not help.
Edward D’Cunha’s father, Stanley, is now fighting against the Shipping Corporation of India for subjecting his 33-year-old son to “stress and abuse that forced him to resign”. Though SCI chairman and managing director S Hajara said Edward himself resigned in 2000, Maharashtra state commissioner for persons with disabilities R K Gaikwad said he was in the process of finalising a judgement that would be in favour of Edward. Stanley has now decided to devote his life to the cause of the mentally disturbed. “I do not want any parent to undergo the same problems that I went through,” he said.
At any given time, 1% of the population suffers from a serious mental disorder and anything between 5% and 10% suffer from minor mental problems. But the government is woefully ill-equipped to handle the problem, admit officials. Civic hospitals have psychiatry wards but they often do not have enough trained doctors or basic medicines. There are 11 trained psychiatrists in three civic hospitals; KEM has five, Sion and Nair three each. There are nine trained psychiatrists in eight other peripheral Mumbai hospitals and private psychiatrists number 250. Mumbai, if you want to know, now has a population of around 15 million.
Every step that the family of a mentally-challenged person takes is fraught with problems. Akila Maheshwari of NAMI India, an NGO working towards mental health, says that getting a disability certificate is a big headache. Just one hospital in Mumbai, J J, has been empowered to give these certificates and it often takes anything between six months and a year to get one.
After the media expose about the certificate-for-cash scandal, a committee of psychiatrists, law officers, police and social workers has been set up. These experts must first agree on whether the person is mentally ill or not. Disability certificates are essential to get jobs in the public sector, where there is a 3% quota, and to establish that a person is capable to take on regular jobs in the private sector.
There is a near-complete lack of halfway homes for the mentally disturbed. Chronic patients need full-stay homes. Those who can recover need halfway homes where they can spend three to 12 months and recover with the help of help from counsellors, regular medication, exercise, a different environment and vocational training. A couple of private charitable organisations, though, do run some kind of halfway homes.
The government claims it is working on various welfare measures. “We have initiated district mental health programmes and added five more districts to the existing five where mental health facilities will be available. We are working on incentives for post-graduate students to teach in mental health subjects and will add 1,800 beds to the Thane mental hospital,” state director of health services Prakash Doke said. There will be special wards for mentally-ill patients’ families in the hospital so that patients can carry out their normal activities with their families’ help. And crisis intervention in the form of a helpline called Mamta (phone 25820728) will counsel callers.
“There will also be a general ward for mental patients where patients and immediate members of the family can stay for 10 to 15 days,” Doke added.