When we accept diabetes and cancer as ‘natural’ illnesses and treat the patient, why can’t we do the same for those who suffer from mental illness?
I stared at the open wardrobe, engulfed in a feeling of numbness. The sarees, the countless blouses, the innumerable bindi and safety pin packets (some half-used, some empty), and the scores of plastic bags and paper cuttings stored in every nook and corner, left me unsettled. The wardrobe that I had planned on sorting and cleaning, seemed to hold countless stories of my mother-in-law. It had belonged to her. It had held her precious belongings for years. It had been her world, her domain.
My mother-in-law passed away exactly four months ago, due to multiple organ failure. And, the complications arose due to the abuse her body had been through because of years of suffering from the dreaded illness – schizophrenia. The debilitating electric shocks she received in the early years (before meeting the psychiatrist who was a blessing in disguise), the number of anti-depressants and drugs she had to consume to maintain her equilibrium, had all left her system weak and defenceless. In hindsight, her end came by so quickly, as if she was waiting to be whisked away from this world of suffering. It all seemed very well planned – well planned by her destiny.
However, it is the destiny of others like her, that I wonder about, worry about. Many a times, we read about mentally ill patients being mistreated because of their illness, because of lack of knowledge of their illness. Being chained to a post, or confined to a room, away from sunlight and fresh air, hidden from the world, they lead a pathetic life. There are also some who are forsaken by their families, and live their lives getting battered by life on the mean streets. And, all this for no fault of theirs.
I won’t say life was not tough for us. It was a battle we fought, but, with a lot of help and support from our angel – our psychiatrist. How many people who suffer at the hands of a mental illness, receive the care they deserve? Mental illness, in our country, is completely misunderstood. Depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, personality disorder, all of these, as we know, fall under this category and have a great many myths surrounding them; myths that hinder the treatment that should be started at its earliest.
It is not only the myths, but also our attitude towards mental illness, which further proves to be a hurdle in its treatment and care. The social stigma attached to mental illness is the sufferer’s undoing. The inability to notice the symptoms, accept the reality that there is a problem, and share it with the society we live in, has a number of repercussions on the sufferer, leading to a delay in the treatment. Why is it that diseases like diabetes and cardiac problems get tagged as lifestyle diseases, and receive all the limelight, while mental illness gets swept under the carpet?
Timely diagnosis and its treatment and care can give patients a fair chance to live the life that they are entitled to live, and reach their potential. My mother-in-law was a fabulous cook. Watching cookery shows and then experimenting in the kitchen was all that her life was all about. It was a constant source of happiness for her and she could make use of her potential only because of the medical treatment she received all these years. The happiness that exuded from her every pore after preparing a brilliant recipe was incomparable! It was during those moments she spent in the kitchen that she really came alive.
She was also fond of dressing up. Wherever she had to go, whatever occasion she had to attend, she would dress up immaculately. People found it hard to believe she was a patient of a mental illness so grave as schizophrenia! Her ability to indulge in her hobbies, to live her life the way she liked, was all possible only because of her treatment. And I am glad we could give her those moments of happiness in a life fraught with struggles.
The side effects of the drugs she took were plenty, but she never let those get in the way of her and her passion. I remember the tremors in her hands, and how, in spite of them, the quantity of salt or spices in a particular recipe would always be accurate. Those moments of sheer bliss that she experienced sure must have been manna from heaven for the poor soul. How I wish that the scores of souls suffering a similar fate could be given one chance at living the life they truly deserve!
There are helplines, therapy, counselling for the patients as well as the care givers, which can go a long way in rehabilitating the patients of mental illness and help them lead better lives, as well as help their families and care givers by guiding them in their treatment and care. Awareness regarding mental illness is being carried out to quite an extent, but, it’s the stigma attached to mental illness that needs to be dealt with. We, as a society, have come a long way in accepting certain realities of life, accepting people and their varied ways of living. Then, why are we unable to accept an illness, which is not the fault of the sufferers?
I am hopeful that in the years to come, mental illness will be viewed in a better light and given the attention it deserves. And, this in turn, will go a long way in banishing the shame and disgrace attached to it, giving its patients a well-deserved chance to living their life to its fullest.
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