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Waiting for help for mental illness in India, it's hard to believe the insensitivity that people suffering from bipolar disorder face.
It was during my college days, when I was a ‘popular’ girl. Dil Se, the Shahrukh Khan’s movie had just released. A bunch of us friends had decided to go go-karting at the Powai circle. We were close to 22 friends who had taken off from Vile Parle to Powai in a few cars. We split once we reached Powai. Fifteen of us stayed at the video game parlour called Hakone, I am not sure if it still exists? And a few of us went towards the karting circle but our plan was washed away with pouring rains.
We headed back to Hakone. I am not a video games person and so I remember walking out and watching the rains. Before I knew it I was refusing to eat anything, sitting in a corner, listening to the song Eh Ajnabi and sobbing.
Was I lonely? Was I upset I could not go go-karting? Was I bored because I did not enjoy video games? Was I hungry (even if I was, why would a 19 year old cry of hunger)? Was it the rains? Was it the song Eh Ajnabi?
It was none of the above.
It was Bipolar Disorder. I was diagnosed as Bipolar at the age of 31 but it was always there. And here was the stark proof.
Shouldn’t someone be taking up the cause of awareness and aid? So girls like myself do not need to wait 31 years to be diagnosed and treated?
I was very glad to read a Times of India headline on Dec 24, 2012 that read 24×7 mental health help line from January in Mumbai. It said the BMC’s 24×7 mental health helpline was to be operational in January 2013 for counseling services and will also refer patients to civic hospitals when required. Reportedly, Rs.25 lakh had been earmarked in the 2012-14 budgets for the helpline to take off in 2011. Finally the government was taking charge.
And then on Wed, Feb 06, 2013, I came across another headline this time by Indian Express that read BMC says ‘Life is Beautiful’, wants to talk with stressed citizens. And the article mentioned something about the services starting ‘soon’.
Not only had the 24×7 help line center not started operations and they had continued to get media attention, I found the language of the spokespeople appalling. In the first article cited, Ms. Mhaiskar talks about ‘targeting’ those in the vulnerable category and conducting seminars for them. It is nice to read that the government is looking at things a lot more professionally by using words like ‘targeting’.
But Ms. Mhaiskar, the word ‘targeting’ is used in the business context for people we want to sell to i.e. Target Customer/Audience. And here we are taking about people who are already targeted by an illness and are probably a target of stigmatic behaviour in the society. To use the words ‘target’ for a seminar is rather insensitive. She may have meant well.
Reports also say “with the cases of mental illness and related crime increasing considerably, the 24X7 help line will assume more importance.” Mental illnesses have emerged as the third biggest cause of suicides in the city, according to the National Crime Records Bureau 2012 study. The number of mental illness patients that die of suicide is higher that those involved in any kind of crime. This makes it one more insensitive and very regressive statement.
Don’t scare the ones who wish to admit they may be suffering from a form of mental illness and make them step back and worry about being called a criminal, if some crime were to happen around them.
In the report, Ms. Parkar goes on to talk about an increasing number of people, especially in urban India, suffering from mental stress and imbalances. “They need to know ‘it is ok’ to seek help and advice. Counseling should not be considered taboo and should be accepted as a treatment,” she said.
I wish to tell Ms. Parkar that starting a helpline will sure help those who wish to get help but will NOT help in making people come forward and talk about their illness. To me the insensitivity of handling the subject makes the possibility of success suspect.
The report also says that the “24×7 mental help line to be launched next month (i.e. March 2013) has a new name (extension) – Life is Beautiful — Hitguj’ where Hitguj, means dialogue.” It is a beautiful thought. I’d like to see the proof and the pudding. It seems like from Dec 2012 to Feb 2013 we had the time to add the word “Hitguj”.
On the other hand there are the Samaritans. Samaritans Mumbai since 1968 has been actively working in the field of mental health and striving to support those in need of help. It is a member of Befriender India, under the umbrella of Befrienders Worldwide, and works with its sister organizations in India, and around the world, for this cause. Their statement is ‘We listen to and help people without judging them’.
I can speak very confidently about the Samaritans. Not only have I used their call services a few times and have been helped immensely without being judged, I have been to their warm and inviting center where even the air had a single point agenda i.e. CARE. Since I feel strongly about this subject, I did apply to be a volunteer and was told about the multiple levels of tests and then a rigorous 6 days training program before they let you answer a single call. I failed my first test unfortunately, but will be appearing for it again soon.
Hitguj was finally launched on May 15 2013. In its first week, Hitguj received an average of 100 calls a day, half of them from citizens grappling with anxiety, irritability and depression, many others from people with domestic or marital problems. More than 60% of the callers tend to be above the age of 31; most of them are male (as reported in HT news on 9th June 2013).
I will reserve my doubts about ‘Life is Beautiful – Hitguj’ ever reaching where the Samaritans or even Asra is. But I sincerely wish them all the luck in the world. I also wish to ask the Public Health Department of the BMC about their plan to spread awareness and eradicate the stigma attached to mental illnesses.
I thank the media that has been frequently covering the ill effects of mental health illnesses. We genuinely need more help and aid in this direction.
Last few questions to the Hitguj makers:
– Why does it not appear in a Google search for suicide headlines?
– Why is it not listed with Justdial or any such database?
– Why does it not have a Facebook page?
– How do people find your number? I haven’t found it yet. Then who are these 100 callers a day?
Pic credit: Eddi (Used under a Creative Commons license)
The power of stories to inspire change made me turn into a storyteller. I write on 2 topics that need a very clear shift in attitude – ‘Being single in India’ & ‘Stigma attached to mental read more...
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