Social stigma chains people cured of mental illness

They can survive on medicines, just like any other patient and do not need to be confined to hospital. But nobody wants them back. Society still keeps them at bay. There is still that taboo

Published: 10th October 2013 12:17 PM  |   Last Updated: 10th October 2013 12:17 PM   |  A+A-


Radha (name changed) was just five months away from her home in Bihar. A mentally-disturbed patient, she was unaware that she had left her four children, husband and all her belongings back home and boarded a train to Kerala. She was found wandering at the Kozhikode railway station and some police personnel brought her to the Government Mental Health Centre, Kuthiravattom. In five months, she was brought back to normal life. She could tell her address to the doctors and her husband and relatives were contacted by the hospital. “Even after finding his ‘missing wife’ after five months, Radha’s husband did not appear happy and was reluctant to talk,” says psychiatric social welfare officer Sobhitha Thoppil. “At first we thought he was overwhelmed and could not show his emotions. But, we later found out from his relatives that the man had remarried and took their four children along with him and his new wife. Radha no longer had any role to play in their life. She was estranged again,” says Sobhitha. The plight of most of the in-patients who have moved out of the hospital is almost similar. “Some go out and try for a job and if somehow the employer finds out that he/she has a history of illness, they are fired,” the welfare officer says. “There are even others whom their relatives take home when their pensions are ready and send them back to the hospital after taking their money,” she says. Hospital superintendent Dr R L Saritha says that there are more than 120 inpatients who no longer need institutional care and can be taken home. “They can survive on medicines, just like any other patient and do not need to be confined to hospital. But nobody wants them back. Society still keeps them at bay. There is still that taboo,” she says. The bed-capacity at the hospital has exceeded its limit and shortage of nursing assistants also adds to the woes. Sobhitha says that relatives as well as the people around are unable to forget the recovered patient’s history. “They remember the violence and indifference once shown by the patients during their period of illness. They are reluctant to believe that these patients can survive on regular doses of medicines,” she says. Some others are unable to recollect their addresses and many of them are illiterates. The majority of the inmates, who are stuck at the hospital, are middle-aged women. “Men try for jobs outside and even if the family is not ready to accept them back, they will try to find a life of their own,” says the welfare officer. The Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (IMHANS) introduced vocational rehabilitation programmes to help the inmates in 1989. “There are more than 74 workers in the paper unit functioning on the hospital premises,” says Baby, who runs the unit. There are also units in others parts of the district and outside - Puthujeevan in Feroke, Asha Bhavan at the Medical College, Santhwanam on Cherootty Road, Maanasa in Thalakkulathoor, Santhwanam in Balussery and Jyothi Nivas in Wayanad. “The hospital tries to empower the inmates through units for flowermaking, carpet making, soap-making and saree and bedsheet painting. The soaps produced by the trained inmates can be used for their own use,” says the hospital sources. The other stuff they sell outside and try to generate an income of their own.


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