Debating India


Caring for the mentally ill

Thursday 9 June 2005, by KANNAN*Ramya

CHENNAI: Muruganandan, 30, was picked off the streets of Velachery and admitted to the Government General Hospital on February 2 to be treated for a gaping head wound.

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SHELTER AT LAST: Mohan who was referred by a government hospital to Anbaham, a home for mentally ill orphans and destitutes at Madhavaram in Chennai. - Photo: S. R. Raghunathan

His mental illness made him prone to `wandering’ much to the chagrin of the hospital authorities. Since he was destitute, he had no one to take care of him or restrain him from wandering. However, the social worker who rescued him managed to find someone who could tend to him during his stay in hospital.

Muruganandan, however, is among the lucky few. A number of mentally-ill patients are admitted into Government hospitals by their families or by members of the public and abandoned. With the hospitals unable to provide individual attendants, it is an uphill task to provide personalised care. Sometimes the medical and paramedical hospital staff call up the Institute of Mental Health or organisations taking care of the mentally ill to find the patients a home and better care.

Dhadhiram, 47, was one such patient. The palm of his left hand bears a scar from a recent surgery at the GH. Since he was incapable of taking care of himself, doctors called Mohammed Rafi of Anbaham, a home for the mentally ill in Madhavaram.

"Most persons with mental illness do not pay heed to personal hygiene. They need to be taken care of, have someone to ensure that they clean themselves and have a bath," says Mr. Rafi. At present, there are at least five such inmates in his home.

S. Nambi, president of the Indian Psychiatric Society and senior psychiatrist at the Institute of Mental Health, says calls come in from police outposts in the Government hospitals asking them to pick up patients with mental illness. Even in these cases, the legal procedure of getting a reception order from the Commissioner of Police and a psychiatrist’s certificate should be followed.

Vandana Gopikumar of The Banyan says that providing medical care to seriously battered, wandering mentally-ill persons continues to be difficult. While The Banyan manages arrange for treatment for its patients at private hospitals, the logistics of keeping the mentally ill in hospital is still daunting, she says.

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