In the whole of India it has been estimated that there are approximately 58 million people with some form of mental illness.
There are approximately 3.5 psychiatrists for every 1 million of the population. Whilst this number is no where near as bad as many other countries, all of these psychiatrists are based in cities. This becomes a problem when 75% of the population live in rural areas.
Only treatment given in the few government hospitals is free. Many people have to pay for their treatment and for their medication. For the third of the population who live below the poverty line, getting long-term treatment for a mental illness is a major problem as virtually all their money and time is spent simply trying to survive.
Human rights abuses can sometimes occur in psychiatric hospitals and faith healing centres. The standard of care in faith healing centres hit the headlines in 2000 when 23 mentally ill people died in a fire – they could not escape because they had been chained to their beds.
Some government policies on mental health do exist but these are really only on paper and have not yet been properly implemented. For example, primary mental health care is available in only 22 of the 600 districts.
Bihar and Jharkhand states are examples where government policy has failed to materialise. Both states are very poor. Bihar state is the bottom of the list for development in India. It has the lowest level of literacy, highest numbers of deaths in police custody, the worst roads, the highest crime and its per capita income is half the Indian average.
There are very few mental health services in these states. In Bihar there are no mental health hospitals, no outreach services to identify mental illnesses, no state psychiatrists, and no access to vital medication. In Jharkhand state the situation is little better, with only one psychiatric hospital which means that people are forced to travel on expensive journeys from miles around to reach it. When they get there they often can’t afford the medication.
Since 2000, BasicNeeds India has rapidly expanded from our initial test programme. We are now able to help mentally ill people in 6 states (Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Andhrapradesh, Kerala, Bihar and Jharkhand), mainly in southern India, through working with partner organisations who learn our approach and deliver our services on the ground.
We also work with three partner organisations to help people in 40 slums in Bangalore. Our work here has surprised us because, despite the access to hospitals and other medical services, the lives of mentally ill people are still no better than those who live in rural areas.
Treatment in India is mainly carried out through mental health camps. Camps in the heart of the community allow mentally ill people to access treatment, without having to travel long distances which can be expensive and stressful. New camps that have recently been tested are being continued and strengthened. Increasingly, psychiatrists and doctors are coming forward to help us conduct camps in their local areas, meaning that it is even easier for more mentally ill people to get help.
The mental health coordinator for Narendra Foundation said, “we are now saving time and money because doctors have come forward to conduct the camps in Pavagada health centre. Before we had to travel 3 hours to reach Madhugiri camp, and then back another 3 hours after it finished.”
The mass awareness programmes are also having a positive impact on reducing the stigma towards mental illnesses. This is carried out through a wide variety of methods including educating children, street theatre and an award-winning radio programme.
The voices of mentally ill people continue to get the utmost importance when we campaign on issues related to human rights violations and social exclusion. Some partners have been innovative in addressing the issues and networking with local government and NGOs to influence public opinion. At Samuha (a partner organisation), the staff and the local bodies are influencing district authorities, advocating for the right to treatment and availability of medicines at local primary health centres.
People in the community now see mental illnesses as treatable; some people are even identifying people as mentally ill and helping them seek treatment. Some mentally ill people have been released from the shackles they have been kept in and some have even been offered jobs by kind members of their communities. These acts may seem small, but they signify a dramatic shift in attitudes towards people with mental illnesses.
So far we have helped 8297 mentally ill people in India transform their lives and have the chance for a normal life for the future.
We work closely with partner organisations, who help us reach out to help mentally ill people far beyond the limits of our organisation. Our partner organisations in India are:
In our South India Programme
- Narendra Foundation
- GASS ( Grameena Abyudaya Seva Samsthe)
- Vidya Sagar
In our North India Programme
- Nav Bharat Jagriti Kendra
In our Urban Programme
- APD (Association of People with Disability)
- APSA (Association for Promoting Social Action)
- Paraspara Trust
Mani Kalliath Programme Manager
114 4th Cross, OMBR Layout, Banasawadi, Bangalore, 560 043
Tel: +91 80 25459235 Fax: +91 80 25450562
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