Families shy away from taking back Institute of Mental Health patients

Chennai: Raju*, a man in his thirties, can any day be seen doing some official writing work at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), Kilpauk. He came in as an inmate with schizophrenia disorder and has undergone rehabilitation therapy. Seeing his improvement, the doctors have given the nod to integrate him with his family.

However, his past history haunts them; the doctors stated that he had committed a murder following which he was given treatment for the mental condition. “I love to watch programmes on television. Rajinikanth is my favourite hero and the last movie I watched was Sivaji and I loved it,” tells an innocent Raju to News Today.

Since his condition is improving, Raju assists people at IMH in writing work and the doctors have written to other departments seeking employment opportunity for him. An inmate for over three years, he says, “I was speaking to my roommate, a verbal spat broke out, his nose started bleeding and they [police] brought me here. I started crying that it was a fake complaint, they understood and dropped the case,” he says in slurred speech. “I do not have parents, my brother will come next month to take me home,” Raju informs.

However, his caretakers are not enthusiastic about taking him back home, and have told the doctors so. Raju is not alone here: the condition of other IMH inmates and several others seeking private treatment, prove that stigma still exists in society. “It is a life-long disability and the patient has to be under medication forever. When their caregivers are informed of reuniting, unfortunately, only the worst part of the patient’s life flashes across their minds and they think about the consequences if the disorder returns. If regular treatment is given, the symptoms do not reappear. However, when the signs improve, the janitors stop the treatment or patients refuse to take them,” said IMH Director, Dr Poorna Chandrika.

If the therapy is stopped, the condition relapses and the patient goes back to square one. “In such a situation, we take the patients back, put them under treatment and try to rehabilitate them,” the director added. The Supreme Court has filed a contempt case against all States for not setting up half-way homes, as sought by petitioner, for re-institutionalising patients fit to be discharged, she said. The IMH has provided a list of 32 patients to the court, added the director.

Echoing similar thoughts, National Crime Records Bureau zonal director and psychologist, Hema Karthik, said, “For such patients, along with medication, family support plays a crucial role. When family support is absent, treatment for the recovered person is not wholesome. The fear of any past misdemeanour and the lack of confidence to face society become blocks.” While it is understood stigma persists, experts opine that caregivers should accept them and treat them with regular follow-ups. To facilitate this, IMH is doing a pilot programme to be in touch with patients if they reside elsewhere in the State.

(* Name changed to protect identity.)

To tackle the problem of patients discontinuing treatment, the Institute of Mental Health monitors them regularly. In the case of outstation patients, its district centres do the follow-up. The staff of the centres keep in touch with the discharged patients and ensure they continue their medication as it is a lifelong process. This pilot project is being implemented across the State.


Bhavani Prabhakar