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

Baby Girls are not Celebrated

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you – Jeremiah 1:5

 

 

Imagine as you hold your baby daughter in your arms for the first time or you remember the first time you looked into those big, innocent eyes, that there is another baby girl who is not wanted simply because she is a girl.  As you tell your daughter or grand-daughter how much you love her, imagine a little girl whose father doesn’t love her because she is not a boy.  As you reminisce about the day you brought your daughter home from the hospital and laid her in her crib, watching her lie there, surrounded by stuff animals, and pretty wallpaper, welcoming her to her new home, think about another little girl who is abandoned–with no home to go to or a pretty room to call her own.  Hard to believe, isn’t it?  However, this is the reality that many women and girls face in South Asia.  It is Mayuri’s reality.

After five years of barrenness, Mayuri finally got pregnant.  For nine months she and her husband Rafat were looking forward to the day their son was born.   This child would restore peace to a home that had been fraught with years of disappointments and bitter arguments.  He would be the pride and joy of his family.  Things were finally looking up.

The big day arrived.  Excitement filled the air as Mayuri went into labor.  However, when the baby boy turned out to be a baby girl, the celebration was over.  Hope turned to horror as Mayuri was to face what usually happens to a woman when she gives birth to a girl instead of a boy.  It is the same thing Mayuri’s mother no doubt faced when she had her.

Like most girls, Mayuri was not loved by her father.  In fact, he drank, gambled and chased after women while she and her mother worked everyday to earn enough money to feed the family of five.  When they refused to give their wages to her father, he beat them.  Sometimes he beat her mother for no apparent reason.

Life at home was terrible for Mayuri.  So much so that her mother, Olimani prayed to all the deities and local goddesses, hoping that her husband would change but her prayers went unanswered.  He remained the same.  As any mother does, Olimani wanted a better life for her daughter.  She wanted Mayuri to escape her father’s abuse so she married off her when she was 14 years old.

Sadly, Mayuri’s new life turned into a nightmare.  She escaped abuse at her father’s hands only to experience abuse from the man she was to spend the rest of her life with…

The abuse women face for bearing daughters is so great that many have resorted to gender-selective abortion and infanticide, resulting in millions of “missing girls” in Asia. Discover more about this and other issues facing South Asian women in Gospel for Asia’s new film documentary, “Veil of Tears.”

At first, life with Rafat seemed promising but that soon changed when they were unable to have children.  The couple’s infertility caused tension in their relationship.  Unfortunately, in South Asia, the woman is blamed for the couple’s inability to have children.  Mayuri bore this shame alone for more than four years.  How she must have suffered.  I can’t help but think of Hannah who was barren but had a husband who loved her dearly.  And of Abraham who didn’t love Sarah any less because she couldn’t conceive.  Yet women like Mayuri are blamed, scorned and mistreated because they have trouble getting pregnant.

And when Mayuri finally got pregnant, she gave birth to a girl.  She could not even celebrate having a child, regardless of the gender, after trying to get pregnant unsuccessfully for five years .  She is punished by her husband.  It’s unthinkable that the woman is blamed for the baby’s gender when it’s the man who determines the sex of the child.  Ultimately, it is God who decides the gender and in His eyes, a child, whether it is a boy or a girl, is a gift from Him.

God blessed Mayuri with a second daughter but this made life worse for her.  The abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband got worse.  She got no sympathy from her mother-in-law and her husband disrespected her in front of the family.  Things got to the point where Mayuri had to flee.

Furious at Mayuri for having two daughters after five years of infertility, Mayuri’s husband and mother-in-law abused her until she ran away.

Alone and with two daughters to raise there was nowhere for Mayuri to go except to her parents’ home.  It grieved Olimani to see that her daughter had suffered abuse at the hands of her husband just as she had herself.  Thankfully, Mayuri’s father was no longer living there.  He had left and remarried.  However, Mayuri’s problems were far from over.  After losing her money to a con artist, she had to find work and the only option she felt she had was to turn to prostitution in order to keep her daughters from starving.

Desperate to support her daughters, Mayuri became a prostitute, which meant being shunned by the entire community—except for a GFA pastor.

It’s heartbreaking to see the lengths a mother will go in order to take care of her children.  It’s also heartwarming to see the way God works.  It was when Mayuri had a health crisis that she came to know Him.  In search of healing she visited temples and offered sacrifices but her condition only grew worse.  Until one day, Gospel for Asia pastor Patakin offered her the chance to pray to a different God.  That meeting changed Mayuri’s life forever.  Through the prayers of the members of the church where she was invited to worship and fellowship, God healed her.  Today, Mayuri sees God’s faithfulness in her life and in the lives of her daughters as He has provided her with a respectable job and a school for them.

“Today, I am living; that is only by the grace of God.  I was totally healed from my sickness by the blood of Christ. … Now I am living by faith in Jesus Christ” – Mayuri

By His act of love and mercy, God showed through Gospel for Asia and their missionary work that every life is precious and cause for celebration.  If you are interested in helping other women and girls like Mayuri and her daughters, sponsor a woman missionary.  Find out how here.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,And that my soul knows very well – Psalm 139:14

Source:  Gospel for Asia

Plead for the Widows

They still hope when they die, that their son probably will come and light their pyre.  A son who breaks your legs, a son who hits you so hard that your skull breaks, a son who is willing to put cow dung in your mouth – and yet you want the same son to come and light your pyre. We need to break that mind-set also, somewhere – Winnie Singh, social activist

I was searching the Internet to see what I could find out about the quality of life for widows in India and was shocked.  After losing their husbands, they are faced with a life of begging and destitution.  Some of them are thrown out by family members.  One widow was beaten by the sons she had raised when she asked them for money.  In-laws refuse to help some widows while others can’t go back home because their parents are too poor to take them back.

Widows face discrimination and are dehumanized.  They are called “it” and in some instances, they are referred to as “randi” which means prostitute in Punjabi.  Some of them marry their brothers-in-law because being man’s property protects them from being raped.

A widow is blamed for her husband’s death.  “You are widowed because you did something wrong in your previous life: that is the view in this predominantly Hindu culture,” explains Dr. Leelavathi Manasseh of the Bible Society. “So, whether a widow is from a rich or poor background, she faces blame, mistreatment and rejection by her family. Many are kicked out of their homes and left to fend for themselves and their children, leaving them in a desperate situation.”  It’s worse when a woman loses her husband to AIDS and she tests positive for HIV.  She is met with even more rejection and ridicule.

In Northern India, there is a place called, “Widow City.”  It is the holy city of Vrindavan.  Widows go there because they believe that if you die there, you would be freed from the cycle of birth and death and obtain moksha (emancipation). It is a place where these women can get away from a life of isolation and the society where they have no place or value.  They are there because they were cast out families who don’t want to pay for them or by in-laws who don’t want them to inherit money or property.  They are ostracised by their villages.  They have lost their income.  They are at the bottom rungs of society and are prevented from remarrying.  In Vrindavan, they pray at the temples and beg. Other widows go there, as pilgrims, intending to dedicate their remaining years to serving the deities Krishna and Radha.

Life for a widow is hard.  When their husbands were alive, they were protected but once they were gone, these poor women felt like orphans because they had no one to take care of them or help them.  They were all alone.  Perhaps this is why in the Bible, orphans and widows were always paired together because they were defenceless, society’s vulnerable.  God wants us to plead for the widows.  Defend their rights to a future filled with hope and dignity.  God made it clear that He is “Against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans” (Malachi 3:5).

While society sees widows as a curse, God sees broken, abused, mistreated and unloved women whom He wants to enter into a loving relationship with.  Their families don’t want them, but God wants them to be a part of His family.

Like so many widows, Netramani was cast out and left to fend for herself.  “I was completely alone. … No one would give me work so I had to beg. … I had nothing to eat, nothing to wear. I was completely senseless and didn’t know anything. . .”

Watch Netramani’s heart-wrenching story and imagine either you or someone you know lying there, sick and helpless and no one stops to help.

…for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’  And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’ – Matthew 25:35-40.  

June 23 is International Widows’ Day, a day when we step into the lives of widows and imagine the desperate places where they find themselves.  Some commit suicide rather than face the shame.  Others turn to prostitution.  Mothers resort to rummaging through the trash in order to feed themselves and their children.  These women don’t deserve to be like this.  You can change this. Through your donations you will make it possible for local pastors to help widows in need, buy them sewing machines, farm animals, or much-needed supplies like winter blankets, water filters and other essentials.  And with your generous gift, these women will have the opportunity to learn about Jesus and His love and compassion for them. To find out more about how you can help, visit http://www.gfa.org/women/widows/

As Christians, we need to demonstrate the love of Christ who reached out to those who were hurting, oppressed and ostracised.  He loved the unloved and valued those whom society deemed worthless. Together let us plead for the widows.  Let us take up their cause.   They have the right to keep their homes, their income and their dignity.  Let us contend with those who mistreat them.  Let us speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.  When we do good to others, we honour God.

A father of the fatherless, a defender of widowsIs God in His holy habitation – Psalm 68:5.

Sources:  Gospel for AsiaTime.com; Women Under Seige; The Laws of Manu; BBC.com; Cross Map; India: Widow City; BBC News