At 53, Indu Kshirsagar knows she has to take medicines to treat schizophrenia. “For 20 years, I have lived on the streets as my parents, husband and in-laws refused to accept me or help me treat the disorder. But now, I stay at Mahila Seva Gram and earn Rs 6,000 every month at a bakery in Pune,” says Indu, who waits patiently at the bus stop on Sinhagad Road at the end of her six-hour shift.
As many as 68 people with mental disorders across Pune and Satara, and Tezpur in Assam have got jobs and are earning monthly salaries between Rs 5,000 and Rs 7,000 for the past two years, thanks to the efforts of Bengaluru-based National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) and an NGO called Parivartan Trust, started by Narendra Dabholkar, the slain anti-superstition activist.
“My work is very simple but I have a good boss. I have to pack bread and toast khari biscuits and other bakery items. I have even opened a bank account and have an Aadhaar and a Pan card,” says Indu, adding that her brother has started visiting her now.
Sudipto Chatterjee, a professor at NIAS and the head for the project called Together for Health, Research and Innovation for Vibrant Employment (THRIVE), told The Indian Express that their key objective was to ensure that people with mental disabilities were trusted by companies and organisations and employed by them. Chatterjee said the project had received a grant of Rs 1.2 crore from Grand Challenges, Canada, for the purpose.
The project has so far enrolled 106 people with mental disabilities in a selection process carried out in Pune, Satara and Tezpur between May and November last year. Of these, 61 people suffered from psychosis, 38 had common mental disorders like depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders and five had epilepsy. Two suffered from alcohol use disorder.
“We wanted to promote a viable and confident statement of economic and social inclusion for people with mental disorders for them to be healthy, happy and thrive,” says professor Chatterjee. Initially, theatre-based activities and other expressive arts and occasional outings helped promote illness management, personal well-being, social participation and readiness for employment.
“By simulating a real-life work station, these activities were meant as a stepping stone to enhance their readiness for further employment in individual jobs. THRIVE programme was explained to individuals and their key caregivers. We helped with the identification of most suitable work option,” Dr Hamid Dabholkar, a psychiatrist and one of the founding members of Parivartan Trust, said .
“Mental health care in the country is riddled with inadequate medical and professional services. To compound the problem is lack of access to treatment, negative attitude and social stigma that leads to discrimination. Over the years we have been working towards rehabilitation of people with severe mental disorders. They were recovering from severe mental disorders and it was now an opportunity to ensure they get real life paid work,” Dabholkar said.
Reshma Kachare, who coordinates Parivartan Trust’s activities in Pune, said: “In Pune, we came across empathetic persons who decided to give them a chance. For instance, Suresh Giramkar, the owner of a bakery on Sinhagad Road has hired Indu and Nilesh Yedke (who also suffered from schizophrenia).” Giramkar said he had conducted an interview before employing them. “Indutai is a regular and Nilesh has been assigned with housekeeping. One has to give them a specific work format and there is really no problem then,” says Giramkar.
Rupali Bhosale, the coordinator of Parivartan Trust in Satara, said continued support and handholding was essential but once the employers are informed about their mental condition, they are quick to understand and help them.
Participants have found employment in local service agencies, offices, commercial establishments and in case of Tezpur, some are as daily wage workers. Participants and some caregivers have found work in tailoring shops and, in keeping with the predominantly agriculture-based rural economy, in activities like poultry rearing or cultivation of spices and organic farming.
At Satara, based on the demands at the local markets, collective livelihood options were tried at the THRIVE centre, including manufacture of local food products and spices, handicrafts that are used widely in local festivals and tailoring activities. In Pune, while the main focus was on individual job placements, for some participants, collective work options, like making paper bags, packaging and chocolate making were also found suitable.
“Being able to participate in collective enterprise activities and do a job has given them a sense of independence in some and in others restored a sense of purpose in life. It has helped them manage their emotions such as anger and sadness effectively; become assertive; express their emotions and thoughts in presence of others, relieve their tension and worries and, most importantly, realise their self-worth and self-value,” Dr Chatterjee said.