MUMBAI: Psychiatrist Dr Bharat Vatwani, who has been treating mentally-ill destitutes and reuniting them with their families for 30 years, says awareness is key in tackling the issue and hopes the Ramon Magsaysay Award that he won on Thursday will increase awareness in India a million times.
“From the point where we started off 30 years ago, there is a lot of change in terms of awareness about mental illnesses. More people have started calling us, writing emails and sending WhatsApp messages. But, that is insufficient considering the need,” Dr Vatwani told TNIE.
Dr Vatwani and his psychiatrist wife Smitha started providing free shelter, food and treatment to mentally-ill destitutes and formed the Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation in 1988. They have rehabilitated and reunited over 10,000 patients with their families.
“One day, while at a restaurant, we saw a horribly skinny and dirty boy. He picked up an empty coconut shell, dipped it into a drain and drank the water. That was the turning point of our lives. We crossed the road and took him to our nursing home. We treated him for schizophrenia and gradually he improved,” Dr Vatwani recalls while narrating the genesis of the foundation.
“According to latest statistics there are four million mentally ill people on the streets, but we estimate the numbers is much more. We would need many institutions, facilities, many more social workers, many more psychiatrists to tackle the problem,” Dr Vatwani said.“More than how much help the award brings to Shraddha, how much help it brings for the cause is important for us,” he added.