13 rupees a year

Let me ask you a riddle. What is the government budgetary allocation for a mental patient? You would never guess! Its is thirteen rupees a year! Yes13 rupees a year is the budgetary allocation for a mental health patient in India. This startling and absurd statistic was revealed in a heart wrenching article entitled Damned lives and Statistics. I urge you to read it. You will be stunned beyond words. But let me share some stats: there are 100 million people in India who suffer from some form of mental illness. Of these 10 million need hospitalisation. There are only 43 government mental hospitals all in a pitiable state. There are only 4000 psychiatrists and 70% of them work in the private sector in urban areas. I leave you to do the maths and work out the absurd and nonsensical figures.

It does not stop there. Here is another riddle. How do the state run mental hospitals deal with body lice? Answer: they strip the patient and spray her with insecticides meant to kill cockroaches. The conditions of mental hospitals are indescribable. Any adjective I can think falls short of the reality. Patients live in inhuman and jail like conditions, locked in hot and dark cells, with stinking toilets and unpalatable food. In some institutions they are even fettered.  Some cosmetic changes have been done and the exterior may look nice, but inside it is a living hell. And to crown it all funds that come to the hospital for food, clothing and mattresses are siphoned off by the officials. They even take home the bedspreads and curtains. A horror story but sadly a real one.

Mental patients need care and understanding. They need therapies and counselling. They need enabling environments to help them heal and reintegrate normal life. In the conditions prevalent today they are sure to wither away.

The alternatives are no better. Many mental patients are taken to faith healers. They are chained, caned, smeared with chili or branded with hot coins. All this to exorcise the demon believed to possess them. In some cases they are dumped by families in faraway places in illegal asylums where they are abused and tortured and even used in organ trading. And yet most of these poor souls can be treated with proper medication and psychological support. The fact that the state does not care for them is criminal to say the least.

Private psychiatric care is exorbitant and only a few can afford it. Some of the institutions can cost up to 5000 rs a day. This is where the rich dump their addict child who has become an embarrassment! For them a lac fifty thousand is chicken feed I guess. For those who do not have the money the options are few. I was horrified when a friend told me the story of a disabled woman who had been hidden by her family till the day she died. My friend lives in a posh colony in Delhi and this poor woman lived in the house opposite hers. She had never known that her neighbours had a disabled relative.

Mental patients may need hospitalisation and treatment but this is only short term in most cases and the patient can easily get back to normal life. I recently had to admit a student in a psychiatric facility – one of the only place that is affordable – and was shocked to hear that many patients were simply abandoned by their families and had spent not months but years away from their homes in spite of being cured. This how much we care for our very own if they happen to be mentally challenged.

But even those who care deeply for their challenged ones face huge problems.I recently bumped into a friend who has a 17 year old autistic son. She is an ace parent and has done everything she could and more for her child. Now the boy turns 18 next year and the institution where he studies does not take children after their eighteenth birthday. Now my friend knows that this young man cannot spend the rest of his life at home and needs to be in an enabling environment which will allow him to progress. Sadly there are very few options and long waiting lists. She is a working woman and needs to find a solution. She candidly asked whether I would open a day care centre for people like her son. I wish I could!

The article and the words of my friend stirred many thoughts that I had been trying to shut off. What would happen to my bunch of challenged souls. Planet Why fell off the map. And yet Planet Why was what would have kept the Munnas and Radhas, the Anjalis and Champas smiling all the way to their golden years. Now their morrows are tenuous and depend on my ability to secure them. I cannot begin to imagine any one of them in a state run facility or rejected by their families. It cannot happen. I pray for a miracle and hold on to the Planet Why dream. Will someone hear my silent prayer.