Stating that the apparatus to treat the mentally ill in the State is better compared to many other States, secretary to the Health and Family Welfare Department, Dr J Radhakrishnan, said that cooperation from quarters such as non-governmental organisations and volunteers was still essential.
“The State government has announced a slew of measures, including setting up a 250-bed hospital at Yerwadi in Ramanathapuram district, but for last-mile healthcare cooperation from all stakeholders is paramount,” he said, speaking at the 20th anniversary celebrations of The Banyan.
On the occasion, the NGO signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Tata Institute of Social Sciences and VU University, Amsterdam, to start a master’s programme in social work and mental health. According to the agreement, training will be provided to people to take care of the mentally ill at the BALM (Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health) by staff from the VU University; the degrees will be given by the TISS.
Radhakrishnan’s view struck a chord with Dr Kishore, senior psychiatrist at National Institute for Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS). The latter concurred: “The nation has around 4,000 psychiatrists, 1,000 psychiatric nurses and perhaps an equal number of psychologists. While these numbers may be woefully insufficient for a nation of over one billion, what’s depressing is that at least 120-odd districts across the nation lack basic access to mental healthcare.”
He added that creative solutions are the need of the hour for such large gaps in service delivery, with its outreach at basic healthcare levels, beginning at the Primary Health Centre (PHC).
Vandana Gopikumar, co-founder of The Banyan, said that it was the very sight of a semi-naked woman running in the streets of the city that moved her to start the organisation.
She dwelt on the genesis of the organisation of how it initially accommodated around 80 women at a rented premises. Vandana related the poignant tale of how a woman, who went missing for over six years and was presumed to be dead by her family, had a happy ending when the woman, after receiving care from their institution, was reunited on the day of her daughter’s marriage.
Prof Parasuraman of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, averred that the issue needed to be addressed at the formative stage itself.
“This can be achieved only by making technicians available at the grassroots level,” he said. Union Health Secretary Keshav Desiraju and Joske Bunders, director of Athena Institute of VU University, Amsterdam, were also present.