THE loss of a dear one can never be quantified or measured. In the case of Professor Bir Singh Chavan, Director-Principal, Professor and Head, Department of Psychiatry, Government Medical College and Hospital, Sector 32 (GMCH 32), who passed away at 2.30 am today at GMCH due to complications because of cancer, the loss goes beyond the circle of family, friends, associates, colleagues …Professor Chavan had touched thousands of lives in his long and illustrious journey as a psychiatrist and a human being par excellence. He was in the league of extraordinary gentlemen, as many recall his work and expertise in the field of mental health and social work for persons with disability. Professor and Head, Department of Psychiatry at GMCH 32 since 1996, he was Director, Government Rehabilitation Institute for Intellectual Disability (GRID) and Director, Mental Health Institute.
Professor Chavan was at AIIMS Delhi as senior faculty, before joining GMCH and did his MD Psychiatry from PGIMER Chandigarh.
“He had so many facets to his personality, doctor, administrator, social reformer, metal health expert, philanthropist and a flawless doctor. As a human being, he was so positive and never complained about his illness, which was diagnosed in October 2019. He was an eternal optimist. I have known him since 1979, and his contribution to the field of mental health and rehabilitation of personas with disability is unparallel, as he worked selflessly with both patients and parents to give them a life of dignity. He approached the issues of psychiatry with a new eye and dimension, which many tend to ignore unconsciously. He was instrumental in the setting up of GRID, working against all odds to make it a reality,” shares Dr Jagdish Chander, Professor and Head of Microbiology, GMCH 32.
Prof. Chavan was instrumental in starting a community outreach programme for mental illness and substance abuse including community based indoor detoxification camp and started regular services for caregivers of mentally ill patients and encouraged the families to get them registered as a self help group in the name of Prayatan. He also started Home Based Treatment Care ( HBT) and Crisis Intervention Services (CIS) for the crisis situations in mental health including 24 hours Suicide Prevention Helpline in Chandigarh.
In Chandigarh, Professor Chavan was instrumental in starting comprehensive rehabilitation services in mental health for persons suffering from mental illness, mental retardation, cerebral palsy (CP), autism and multiple disabilities. For chronic mentally ill patients (SMI), he has set up Disability Assessment, Rehabilitation and Triage (DART), and facilities at DART include vocational skill training, social skill training and cognitive enhancement therapy (CET). For unknown, orphaned and destitute mentally ill patients, he arranged residential facilities at SAMARTH and Aashreya. “I have known him for more than two decades now and have worked with him on numerous projects. He was the President elect of the Indian Association of Social Psychiatry and I was the treasurer, working together for more than 20 years, admiring and respecting his professionalism, positive attitude, friendly nature, generous and giving nature and how he let the child in him stay alive. He put his point across firmly, fighting with government authorities for his patients and their well-being, and his dream was to set up a home for the mentally challenged, asking the government to give us land. From getting loans, opening bank accounts and giving his poor and mentally patients skills to earn a livelihood, his vision was amazing. He conceived Umeed, a project for the placement of persons with intellectual disability, helping set up kiosks across Sector 17 and was personally involved in monitoring the progress of work. I feel so sad for his patients and the parents of the mentally challenged he was associated so closely with. They will be completely lost without his constant support, help and there can never be another person and doctor like him,” shares Dr Adarsh Kohli, Professor of Clinical Psychology, Department of Psychiatry, PGIMER.
Professor Chavan received the Presidential Award in 2003 in the category of Best Placement Agency from then President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. Under another project called Prayatan, Professor Chavan created job placement avenues for the mentally ill, with both Umeed and Prayatan being self-sustaining projects. For his contribution in the field of mental health and Social work in Disability, Professor Chavan received the second Presidential Award in 2013 as the Best Individual working for persons with disability.
Dr Nitin Gupta says he was both lucky and blessed to have worked with Professor Chavan in different capacities and learned a lot, over a period of two decades.
“He had unlimited compassion and empathy for people with mental illnesses and their caregivers; especially for the marginalized sections amongst the mentally ill and the developmentally challenged. Prof. Chavan was actively involved in professional organisations and NGOs alike; and was an administrator par excellence. He single-handedly transformed the face of mental health in Chandigarh and made it a force to reckon with in the areas of community psychiatry and rehabilitation of persons with mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities. He was always full of energy and his passion and zeal for his profession, people in distress, and life in general were unmatchable. Having worked with Dr .Chavan for so long I can say a lot, but suffice to say that his premature passing away has robbed the world of an exceptional mental health professional and a human being,” sums up Dr Gupta.
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