Chennai Institute of Mental Health patients involved in work therapy

Chennai: Knead the dough, dust flour, roll it out, cut into pieces, bake them and voila! There comes out fresh, hot biscuit off the oven at the Institute of Mental Health, Kilpauk, baked by the inmates.

While this has been happening for around 10 years, doctors at the institute opine that Industrial Therapy Centre (ITC) has helped patients be on a routine and has kept them focussed.

One such employee is Kiran, a man in his thirties, who has been working in the baking unit for quite sometime now. Admitted due to symptoms like excessive anger and sleeplessness, he has been rehabilitated and reunited with his family. At present, he comes from home to IMH for working.

“I have learnt to bake biscuits, bread and cakes here,” an innocent Kiran tells News Today. “I do whatever the master says,” he adds while he rolls out the dough.

IMH social welfare officer Ambika says that only patients who show a certain amount of improvement are sent to take up industrial therapy. “Recovering inmates cannot stay calm when they are left in their wards. When they are made to indulge in activities such as this, they are focussed,” she states.

Sami, yet another inmate, working in the garden, says, “I cannot be idle. I wake up in the morning, I want to work, running here and there and be active.”

In the kitchen garden, IMH grows bitter gourd, snake gourd, plantain pith, papaya, ladies’ finger and tapioca. When asked what he wants to do here, Sami, speaking as he waters the papaya plants, says, “We need to find out the soil depth, only then we would know what grows well here. Back home, we used to grow cotton and I just used to watch the work. Not any more as I get down on the field and work.”

In a way, it has made the institute self-sufficient – they eat what they produce. The bakery items are distributed during breakfast, given to canteen for out-patients and the vegetables harvested from the garden go into the meals.

If one batch is busy baking cakes and tending to the plants, another set of patients is busy weaving mats, making bags and wielding the painting brush.

An enthusiastic Lakshmi narrates what she does there. “I have been trained to make items like trees, paper bags, dolls and mats,” she beams while her hands are busy fashioning a bag.

On the other side of the room is a septuagenarian and one of the oldest inmates, Rani, who is engaged in drawing a mother and child. “I have been bestowed with this talent by my parents. I become happy when my art is distributed for colouring,” she says.

In addition to the existing therapies, IMH Director, Dr Poorna Chandrika, is holding talks to practice vermicompost and produce sanitary napkins on the premises.

(All names have been changed to protect identity.)

Bhavani Prabhakar