CHENNAI: It was the first time Bina (name changed) had heard the word. Her in-laws had excluded ‘schizophrenic’ from the description of their son as ‘high-flyer’, ‘bank employee’ etc. Nothing more was told; nothing more was asked.
Hearing it from a psychiatrist, it was terrifying and relieving all at once. Terrifying because she did not really know what it was. Relieving because she now had a name to denote everything that was happening.
A month or two into their marriage, she knew something was amiss. He was highly strung. Bina remembered his disconcerting penchant for the salted and roasted cashew nuts from Kochi that his uncle always remembered to bring on visits. It was only after he guzzled the contents of two whole cashew tins in an hour, did she politely ask him to stop. The moment she did, however, he stormed out of the room vowing never to touch another cashew again.
“Today, after 26 years of marriage, his face would still harden at the sight of the dark blue tin that comes once a while and he would walk away like there was nothing there,” she said. And then, there were the voices. He would get ready in the morning to go to work, have his breakfast with a glassful of raw eggs and she would then hear the grumble of his scooter. Two minutes later, she would find him sprawled on the bed.”The voice told me I’d meet with an accident if I ride today,” he would say.
By the time she read and tried to make sense of her husband’s condition, she had already become pregnant.
Bina is one of thousands of women who enter into marriage, with no idea of their partner’s mental health issues. By the time the mental illness becomes discernible, they are often left with no idea of how to handle their partner’s illness.
“My husband suffers from clinical depression. I came to know about it only after the wedding,” said Priyanka (33), who works in an IT firm in Velachery.“For the first few months, I had no clue how to handle the situation. Eventually, I researched the condition and now, I have an idea. But I would never forgive his parents and him for keeping it from me before the wedding,” she said. While it may be relatively easy for the urban young to seek help in tackling their partners’ condition, those from the financially backward classes cannot afford to let their marriages break down and have an added burden.
“We ask the parents to bring the prospective bride/groom’s parents so that we can help them understand the situation at hand before the wedding takes place. In some cases, they take our advice. But in most cases, they don’t,” said clinical psychologist Arthy Jayavel.
According to Arthy, for women suffering from mental illnesses, marriages can trigger the symptoms.
“For anyone, wedding can be stressful, but for women with mental illnesses, it leads to further anxiety. Further, change in sleep patterns after they move in with their in-laws can add to it,” she said.
Often, regular medication is also discontinued for fear of the spouse coming to know about their illness, leading to relapse. “When they find out that there is a problem, most families feel cheated. When there are children, there is usually more scope for reconciliation. If not, in many cases, it leads to divorce. Since mental illness by itself is not treated as a ground for divorce, they look to obtain it by mutual consent,” she said.