Dearth of psychiatrists a concern, says expert

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There has been an increase in the level of awareness amongst individuals about mental disorders, but the social stigma attached to it — both in the rural and urban areas — and lack of psychiatrists are major concerns in treating mental disorders.

“Even after rehabilitation of the mentally-ill persons, their families are hesitant to accept them. By the time a patient gets well, his family starts living independently and this person is no longer needed. The awareness level about various mental illnesses has definitely increased,” said Mr R. Jayaprakash, director, Institute of Mental Health.

He added that an increase in population, awareness about mental illness and also economic development are major reasons for more people visiting psychiatrists.

But lack of psychiatrists in our country is one of the major problems in treating mental illness. “For 1.2 billion people, there are only 4,000 psychiatrists,” pointed out Dr Thara, director of Scarf (Schizophrenia Research Foundation). Tamil Nadu has around 350 psychiatrists and of them, around 170 are in Chennai.

“The rest are in cities like Madurai, Tiruchy and Coimbatore. There is hardly anyone in the rural areas and people there are totally ignored,” said Mr Sujit John, research coordinator at Scarf. He added, “There are people in the rural areas who believe that black magic can cure mental illness.

Theoretically, schizophrenia equally affects men and women. At least 10 new patients visit us every day.”

“Only the government , which has a lot of resources, can reach interior villages,” said Dr Thara.

Mentally ill reunited with family members

Sulochana Bai could not hide her tears after seeing 26-year-old son Rohidas. It was an emotional moment for her and husband Rama Thukaram Kamble from Nanded, Maharashtra, when they met their son after six long years at Mohamed Rafi’s home in Chennai on Friday.

The founder of Anbagam Rehabilitation Centre, Mr Rafi took efforts to reunite Rohidas with his family. It was in 2006 Rohidas had run away from home fearing his parents would admit him to a hospital in Pune. “He studied till Class 8 and could not continue his studies as we were not able to afford school fees. He was working as a labourer but suddenly started behaving abnormally. He used to quarrel with his father and led a secluded life,” said Sulochana with tears rolling down her cheeks.

Mr Kamble, a wage labourer, said, “We were planning to take him to a hospital in Pune and knowing this he ran away from home. We searched him almost everywhere in Maharashtra and even approached astrologers to find his whereabouts. We are happy now and his younger brother and two sisters will be the happiest people when Rohi reaches home.” Though Rohidas kept silent, he was continuously asking when he would go home.

Mr Rafi said, “One Mr Nagarajan admitted Rohidas to our rehabilitation centre one-and-a-half year ago. He was mentally ill and never uttered a word. But he started responding to treatment and only two weeks before he said his hometown was Nanded. We contacted the Nanded police station and spoke to his parents. If Nagarajan had not brought him here he would have died.”

Nagarajan spotted Rohidas on his way to office in Velachery station. “He was wandering in the streets of Velachery and one day when I saw him drinking sewage water, I immediately contacted my friend and through him I took Rohidas to Anbagam,” said Nagarajan.

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