Restoring sanity

Restoring sanity

Paulo Coelho (of The Alchemist fame), who spent a brief time of his life in a mental institution, has narrated a beautiful story set right there – in a mental hospital. The book, titled Veronica Decides to Die, is about a girl who finds a "sane" world in the mental hospital, and also learns much about the "insanity" of the so-called sane society out there. The book, triggered from the author’s own experiences in the mental institution, forces the reader to dwell on "madness" as an illness and to question the sources of mental infirmities. The book reminds one of what Mark Twain observed, "The way it is now, the asylums can hold the sane people but if we tried to shut up the insane we would run out of building materials".

Coelho’s book is perhaps a rare departure from the usual because the society seldom gives the mentally ill the attention it deserves. Yet there are some who still care for these people. Like volunteers from Sevadham, a city-based NGO, who visit the Thane Mental Hospital every month, to spend time with the inmates and also conduct some soft-therapies on them.

Since July 2004, Sevadham volunteers began visiting the inmates once a month, with the objective of engaging them in activities to help them interact with them and open up. Sevadham uses game therapy, group therapy and music therapy, simple but effective techniques that help reduce stress and improve coordination and concentration of the patients. The result of such sessions is that participants have become calmer than before. Sevadham is now trying "music therapy" with these patients. Music is known to have soothing effect on the nerves and mental patients have apparently responded well to the musical notes. Music charges them up. Most patient love to express themselves and music provides them a channel for self-expression. Inmates enjoy bhajans, folk songs and even film songs. In fact, three weeks ago, the volunteers celebrated Christmas and New Year with the 200-odd inmates of the Thane Mental Hospital. Besides distributing napkins, fruits and biscuits, these volunteers made them sing and dance – and inmates thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Sevadham’s initiatives are augmenting the in-house supportive therapy of the hospital, where occupational therapists keep the inmates engaged in various activities likes games, gardening,   so that their minds do not wander into self-defeating thoughts and trigger undesirable actions.

The NGO is now exploring the possibility of starting a day-care centre at Thane for women patients who are on parole, i.e. those patients who are deemed as cured and allowed to leave the hospital. "These are borderline cases, who need a little hand-holding. Our proposed day-care centre will attempt to provide them with avenues to keep them gainfully occupied so that they retain their sense of confidence and self-esteem," said a Sevadham spokesperson. Occupational therapists at the hospital have appreciated this initiative of Sevadham as they think that this kind of an initiative will help prevent cases of relapse and re-admission, which often happens once the patient is discharged.

When volunteers from Sevadham started visiting the mental hospital, the idea was to reach out to another marginalised section of the society. The frequency of visits has increased since they first began and now volunteers meet the inmates in their wards, where earlier the patients were brought to a common room. What is encouraging is that many socially conscious citizens approach the NGO to offer their voluntary services in these noble initiatives. Sometimes one gets a feeling that it is such selfless and sane people who make it worthwhile living in this otherwise insane world.

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