Mental Health Crisis in India

More than 50 million people in India suffer from a mental illness.  In 2011, India recorded the highest rate of major depression in the world at 36 per cent.  According to doctors, roughly 10 per cent of India’s population suffers from depression – MGMH

 

Women with mental illness are treated as less than human.  They are dumped, abandoned and abused.  If there are any signs of mental illness, a woman is put in a mental hospital with no chance of getting out.  Men can go back home while women are there for life.  In the following video, we meet a woman whose husband had her institutionalized although she had no history of mental illness.  Here’s a story of a mentally ill woman whose husband built a case against her so that he could get custody of their children after divorcing her.

It is not surprising that women suffer from depression at higher rates than men.  They have to deal with gender inequality, violence, lack of paid employment, lack of education, excessive spousal alcohol use and poverty.  Mothers are blamed for the birth of a female child and many face pressure to have male children.  Women are diagnosed with schizophrenia later in life, oftentimes, following the birth of their children.  The children are often removed from the ill mother’s care and this results in further distress for her. Indian women have higher rates of suicide than women in most developed countries and a higher rate of suicide compared to men in India.  Depression is one of the most common reasons for suicide among Indian women.

Mental health in India carries with it a stigma, especially if the person suffering from mental illness is a woman.  According to MGMH (Movement for Global Mental Health), in rural India, it is common to see people taking their children to temples and faith-healers instead of hospitals and doctors, especially in cases of mental health.  Mental health was something that was talked about in hushed tones.  Thankfully, it is no longer being swept under the rug.  People are coming forward.  Deepika Padukone stunned her fans last year when she admitted that she suffered from anxiety and depression.

At the time the news broke, she was one of the most sought after actresses in Bollywood. It took tremendous courage for her to disclose her illness, especially since people diagnosed with mental illness face discrimination.  Deepika has since launched the Live Love Laugh Foundation to raise awareness about mental health issues and as a result many celebrities were inspired to come out in the open and address the need to talk about mental health.  Varun Dhawan admitted that he was depressed during the making of Badlapur and Honey Singh revealed that he has been undergoing therapy for bipolar disorder.

Sadly, those living with mental illness are victims of a cruel fate.  They are often locked away and stripped of their basic human rights in state-run institutions that are under-staffed. In an article, titled Mentally Ill Suffer a Horrible Fate in India posted on the site for Deutsche Welle (DW), most state run mental hospitals are in deplorable conditions. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) reported that out of the 43 government mental hospitals in India, less than half a dozen are in a “livable” condition”.

There are doctors in charge of these hospitals who have no business being there.  “These doctors don’t understand the intricacies of a psychiatric illnesses and the comprehensive care the patients require,” said a psychiatrist working in a state-run mental hospital in Uttar Pradesh.

And in the midst of the crisis of hospitals not providing the conditions and care the patients need, are quack healers who are profiting from this.  According to a study by Dr. Shiv Gautam, former superintendent of Jaipur Mental Hospital, 68 per cent of the mentally ill are taken to faith healers before a psychiatrist.  “The reason, besides superstition, is that most general medicine doctors fail to diagnose psychiatric illness,” Gautam said. “A mentally ill patient displays symptoms which superstitious people believe are paranormal,” he added. “Such patients are tortured, chained and used for extracting money from their families.”  Hema, who was suffering from Schizophrenia was believed to have an evil spirit.  Her family took her to Datar Sharif Dargah where she spent a year locked up.  It wasn’t until her condition deteriorated that she was brought to Dr. Gautam.  In 15 days, she began to improve and a month later she was normal.

In other cases, the mentally ill are subjected to one of these horrific ordeals:  whipping, caning, inhaling burnt chili smoke, having their eyes smeared with chili paste or having their eyes branded with red, hot coins.  There are laws banning this practice, however, many dargahs and temples keep the patients chained.  Some of them spend the rest of their lives like this.  In 2001, 26 patients perished in a fire at a dargah in a coastal village because they couldn’t escape the blaze since they were chained.  What a horrific and senseless tragedy.

Families of mentally ill people opt for dumping them.  This means that they are dumped into an asylum where the conditions are not fit for a human.  When an illegal asylum was raided, they found thirty-five men and six boys living in inhuman conditions.  The stench from their unwashed bodies and the excrement drove neighbors to alert the health department.  Naked and chained inmates were discovered, dumped there by their families after they paid the asylum owner.  Some of these poor souls were found crawling in their excrement, some even consuming it.  On their bodies were marks of torture.  Some had surgical scars on their backs, leading to allegations that the asylum had links to kidney theft.  78 patients had entered the asylum but only 41 were found during the raid.

Other patients are dumped in jungles or forests ranges.  Their families pay lorry drivers to drop them.  Women and children are among these victims and in some cases, the females are raped by the drivers before being dumped.  Social activist Murugan S. who has rescued countless mentally ill people from the streets, cautions us not to judge the families by calling them cruel.  Instead we are to examine what forced them to take such extreme measures.  He believes that system needs to change.

Part of the solution is raising awareness.  The suffering of the mentally ill has been brought to our attention. It is out in the open.  The next thing that needs to be done is to show the superstitious and fearful society that mental illness is nothing to run away from or to be ashamed of.  The person suffering from mental illness needs love, support and most importantly, proper care so that he or she can live a normal life.

The government needs to put something place to ensure that patients are placed in reputable, sanitary facilities that will provide the care that they need and to ban the operation of illegal asylums and the practice of dumping.  Quack healers should be banned from profiting from other people’s suffering.  Husbands should not be allowed to institutionalize their wives if there is no record that they have mental illness.

No one wants to be mentally ill but it is a reality for many people and what they need is to know that they have a platform where they can talk about what is happening with them. Here in Canada, we have Bell Let’s Talk, a wide-reaching, multi-year program designed to break the silence around mental illness and support mental health all across the country. It has done so much to fight the stigma of mental illness and encourage people to get involved in educating themselves and others.

It is my sincere hope and prayer that something will be put in place in India so that attitudes toward mental illness would change and those suffering from it will have a platform where they would not be judged, dumped, abandoned or discriminated but supported and be treated with dignity and open minds.  In the meantime, let’s keep talking and raising awareness.

Talking is the best way to start breaking down the barriers associated with mental illness – Bell, Let’s Talk

 

Sources:  Vice News; Movement of Global Mental Health; Wikipedia; Deutsche Welle

Street Children

Leave your fatherless children, I will preserve them alive – Jeremiah 49:11

Usually before I retire for the night, I check on my son.  I make sure he’s nicely tugged in.   He has a home.  He has his own room.   He doesn’t have to take the bus to school.  His Dad drives him there.  He doesn’t have to worry about anything.  He is well cared for.  In fact, he has a lot to be thankful for.  He is living a life of luxury compared to other children.  There are children out there who would gladly trade places with him.  These children are “street children”.  Who are they?

gospel for asia street kid2

Street children are minors who live and survive on the streets. They often grow up in public landfills, train stations, our under the bridges of the world’s major cities – Humanium

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Why do they live on the streets?  There are several reasons such as family, poverty, abuse and war.  Economic, social and political factors can also play a role.

Children end up on the streets for a number of reasons, many of which are rooted in family instability and poverty.  In the region where we work, children most often leave home because they are fleeing instability or have been rejected and abandoned by their families for various reasons (disabilities, disease or disobedience).  Many of the children we have worked with have left their homes to flee domestic violence, abusive relatives or neglectful families.  Others have done so because their families live in severe economic distress, either in rural villages or city slums, and are unable to care for them – The Street Child Project

Life on the street is fraught with danger for these children. They are vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and sexual exploitation.  Some of them end up in gangs.  This is heartbreaking because all these children want is a better life–something they didn’t have at home.

…the most vulnerable are those who actually sleep and live on the streets, hiding under bridges, in gutters, in railway stations.  While they may have small jobs such as shoe-shining or market-selling to pull through, may also end up dying on the pavement, victims of drugs, gang rivalry and disease.  Without some form of basic education and economic training, the future is bleak for these street children and their life expectancy terrifyingly low – Unesco

Poor nutrition is another problem street children face.  They can’t get food because they don’t have money.  And those who can buy something to eat, they choose unhealthy foods such as ice cream, cakes.  Since they don’t have access to sanitary facilities they are often dirty and infested with fleas.  Lack of hygiene makes them susceptible to diseases.

wish I had my mother or father with me, Nandi thought, weeping in the corner of the room. They would have never allowed anybody to beat me like that.

Nandi is a little boy who never knew his real parents.  He was adopted but his adoptive parents treated him like a servant and beat him.  They got angry when he called them “mother and father”.  I can’t begin to imagine what life must have been like for this child.  He longed for his real parents, believing that they would never allow anyone to mistreat him.  He longed for their love and protection.  As parents, we are responsible not only for raising our children, teaching them and disciplining them but we are supposed to love and protect them.  They should feel safe at home.  Nandi didn’t experience love, protection or security.  All he knew was unkindness, abuse and forced labor.  Unable to take the abuse any longer, he decided to run away and boarded a train to a big city.

We know that a big city is no place for a child.  Not surprisingly, Nandi soon ended up begging at the roadside all day long.  Like Oliver Twist, Nandi met his Fagan.  This man took the money Nandi got for begging and in exchange, gave him little food.  When Nandi didn’t want to do this any more, the man became incensed and beat him.  The next day when Nandi again refused to beg, the man beat another boy in front of him.  His will broken and gripped by fear, Nandi obeyed.  God would have to intervene and He did in an unexpected way.

Nandi was crossing the street one night when a car ran over his foot.  A police officer rushed over to where the injured boy was and took him to a hospital.  Nandi stayed in the hospital for more than six months, recuperating.   He had a visitor–a woman who asked him if he wanted to go to a children’s home.  Initially, Nandi refused because he was afraid .  New people and places intimidated him. However, when he saw how kind she was, he changed his mind and she took him to Gospel for Asia’s home for abandoned and runaway boys.

It took a while for Nandi to get used to being there.  During his first days there, he was overwhelmed by the new faces and structured lifestyle.  He broke down in tears and was comforted by the staff members. They assured him, “Don’t worry, because we are here like your mother and father.”  What a change from the life he had known before then.  While he had been with his adoptive parents, he had craved parental love and here he was receiving it from strangers.  The women brought him food and medicine when he wasn’t able to move around much because he was still recovering from his operation.  They stayed with him at night when he couldn’t sleep.  Much like a mother stays with her child until he or she falls asleep. The love of these people touched this little boy’s heart.  Maybe a mother or father would do the same things these sisters are doing, he thought.  Through the loving care of these women, God revealed Himself to a child who had been starved of love all his life.

That accident was God’s way of getting Nandi off the streets and putting him in a place where he would be cared for and receive a good education and learn about Jesus.   Now, Nandi wants to serve Jesus by singing.

As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you – Isaiah 66:13

Manjulika’s life was much different from Nandi’s.  She knew her parents.  She and her sisters lived with them.  One day, Manjulika’s world was turned upside down.  She woke up to learn that her mother was dead.  She had died in the hospital.  From that moment on, Manjulika became a mother to her younger sisters.  Their father worked long hours as a rickshaw driver.  He would go home drunk and sometimes he beat them.   As Manjulika struggled to raise her siblings, she thought of her mother and how she had done so much for them.   She missed her.  She missed her mother’s love and care, especially as she and her sisters didn’t receive any love from their father.  In fact, he had no problem letting the government take them to a Gospel for Asia home for at-risk girls. The girls would soon come to know another Father. One who loves them.

The moment Manjulika walked into Gospel for Asia’s home for abandoned girls, she knew that she was in the right place.  This was a place where she would receive love and care.  She was no longer burdened with the responsibility of raising her siblings.  She had help.  The staff was there to provide for their needs.  They got food, school supplies and clothes.  And most importantly, they received the kind of love they had once received from their mother.   The staff was like a mother to the girls.  They sat with Manjulika whenever she got sick and helped her to eat.  They celebrated her birthday.  Manjulika had never had a birthday party before.  The staff enrolled her in a good school and helped her with her homework.  Things were looking up.

Manjulika thinks about her mother again but this time it is without sadness.  “These sisters care for us, and they meet all our needs.   If my mother were alive, she too would have done the same things the sisters are doing to me.”  She is again experiencing the kind of love she once had when her mother was alive and missed when she died.

He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing – Deuteronomy 10:18

Today, Manujika wants to be a teacher and share her knowledge with children.  She also wants to tell others about Jesus.  She wants them to know that he loves them regardless of their background.

Nandi and Manujika had happy endings to their stories but there are children out there who are still living on the streets and in danger of exploitation, drugs, violence and premature death.  Please lift them up in prayer.  Pray that God will intervene in their lives as He did with Nandi and Manujika and take them off the streets.  Children are precious in His sight.  They deserve to have quality life.  They deserve to have a bright future.  They deserve to have love, protection, care, education and knowledge of Jesus.

Learn more about Gospel for Asia’s Street Children Ministry and how you can make a difference.

For in You the fatherless finds mercy – Hosea 14:3

Sources:  Gospel for AsiaWikipedia;  Humanium; The Street Child Project; Unesco