My mother is in the hospital with a condition of chest congestion. She is eighty one and her lungs have become quite weak. The monsoon rains which washes over my jaded spirits, fatigued by the blistering heat of the North Indian summer, are not too kind to her aging respiratory tissues. She has developed a tendency towards chest problems almost as soon as the temperatures come down and the moisture content in the atmosphere increases.
This is a fairly big hospital in this part of the town. Passing by the Reception area on the way to the canteen for an early morning cup of tea, I just glanced up at the board indicating all the services provided there. Various departments show up ,cardiology, neurology, paediatrics, diabetic clinics, physiotherapy, gynaecology, homeo and ayurveda clinics and lots more. Curiously, there is no psychiatry department.
Kerala is known to be a State where the level of morbidity is quite high. The corridors and the lobbies that literally teem with patients in that hospital or any other ,on any given day is a sure indication of that and yet for all the awareness and readiness to get treatment for physical problems seems to be inversely proportional to the alacricity with which medical help is sought in mental disorders.
Here in Kerala, there are indeed quite a few social welfare schemes in place. Every time I come down here, I am surprised and pleasantly at that, to learn about the rather effective implementation of most of them at ground level. These days , for example, there is a lot of focus on the environment . There is the Government sponsored programme, aptly named,”Bhoomikku oru kuda” (an umbrella for the earth) and the “Seed” project sponsored by “Mathrubhumi”, a well established Newspaper group which has been around for many, many decades. Under both these programmes, saplings are being freely distributed. Schools are encouraged to have their own kitchen gardens and to plant trees in their compounds. Groups are formed with committed leadership from the teachers and the students. Prizes are given away regularly for the best efforts in this direction. My sister, who is a Village Officer, says that the collection of taxes for landed property also increases when the Agriculture Department comes up with schemes for distribution of saplings because those who desire to procure the benefit of free good quality saplings , are required to produce documentary proof that they are up to date in their dues to the Government. It’s not much really, just Rupees twenty or so per acre of land. But there are still defaulters, which number comes down when the plants go around. Killing two birds with one stone, so to speak or may be that is a negative kind of proverb to quote here. Whatever, quite a smart move on the Government’s part, I thought.
The good thing about Kerala politics is that the change in Governments are not allowed to disrupt such welfare schemes, thanks to a very aware public who does not shy away from applying pressures on the authorities, which is why the very obvious neglect in the area of Mental Health is kind of disappointing. It seemed that it has now fallen on the NGOs and missionary institutions to fill in the lacunas and try and do their best. It clearly isn’t enough. I guess the apathy has a lot to do with the attitude of the ordinary citizen towards what we ordinarily brand as “Madness”.
In the West, people seek psychiatric help much as unabashedly as we would approach a physician for a migraine or a severe attack of cold and cough. The slightest of tendencies towards depression or anxiety have them seeking appointments for counselling or medication as need be. But here there is so much of stigma attached to aberrations in mental health that we tend to ignore the symptoms or hide them from others till the condition degenerates to such extent that it reaches a critical stage and by that time it only makes matters more complicated for everyone.
There were so many cases one came across during the two days that I accompanied Dr. Chitra on her rounds to various places, about whom , all of us , the neighbourhood, community or Government had not bothered to be concerned in any remarkable way. And yet community support and timely professional help could’ve gone a long way in alleviating the discomfort caused by the illness, both for the affected individuals and the family concerned.