Breaking the shackles of schizophrenia

A conversation with a mother in the out-patient department of SCARF sparked the idea for this initiative.
Breaking the shackles of schizophrenia

CHENNAI: Dedicated and hard-working journalist Mithali is gang-raped while reporting news on the Bihar-Bengal border. The traumatic incident results in unlocking schizophrenia symptoms she had from childhood and Mithali is now set to live in a world of her thoughts. She imagines her fiance (who called off the engagement because of the happenings) to be her husband and she is in search of their home at 15 Park Avenue, Kolkata.

While this might have been the plot of the poignant movie 15 Park Avenue on schizophrenia by Aparna Sen, this is a lived experience for many. Among them is Udayakumar. Born to a fisher family in Koraikuppam, a village in Thiruvallur district, he lost his father in 2003. “I loved my father and could not accept the reality. I did not eat and sleep for a week. I kept saying, ‘Nan dhan kadavul, nan dhan pei’ (I am the god and the devil),” he shares. The villagers thought that a demon possessed him. “I heard voices in my head and could see my father,” he adds.

The then 16-year-old was taken to places of worship and hospitals but nothing helped. He was then brought to Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF) in 2004. With proper guidance, support, and medication, Udayakumar has been in the workforce since 2008 and is now employed as a civil department supervisor in Minjur, Thiruvallur district.

Udayakumar was one of the recipients of the Padma Bhushan Dr Sarada Menon Awards, presented by SCARF, appreciating their grit, determination in coping with their challenges and moving forward in life. Sharing his experience, he says, “Nobody in my village wears pants, we always wear lungis. When I sent the award photo to my friends, they were all very happy. They commented ‘paaru da, Udaya eppadi satta-pantu potu smart-a irukan’ (Udaya is wearing pants and a shirt, he looks smart).” For him, it has been a long journey. Now, he educates people on mental illnesses and helps them seek professional help.

Acknowledging struggles

May 24 is observed as World Schizophrenia Day. To commemorate, the NGO organised this award ceremony early on April 5 for people who have battled with this mental health condition and to raise awareness. This award was instituted in 2014 to recognise those people who have overcome challenges and done well by leading a life close to their premorbid levels. “It usually gives us joy when something is part of the recognised social identity. And, these awards give us a good amount of joy which is equivalent to any other award of recognition,” shares Dr Padmavati R, director of SCARF.

Every year, 10 individuals are honoured by SCARF. The award winners of this year include Kavitha, who is now working in a maavu (batter) shop, Punitha Suresh, who is now a mental health advocate and was working to get voting rights for inmates of psychiatric facilities, and many others with similar experiences.

A conversation with a mother in the out-patient department of SCARF sparked the idea for this initiative. This woman had lost her husband to suicide, who had schizophrenia, and two of her sons are now under SCARF’s care. “What struck me was her commitment and happiness in taking care of her family. She knows caregiving is a very thankless job and she does it cheerfully. I believe those are all the qualities we need to learn,” shares Dr R Mangala, assistant director of media and awareness, of SCARF. “People are acknowledging the fact that they have overcome the problem and lead a normal life,” she adds.

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