At 43, Niranjan (name changed) is desperate to get back to work. Three years ago, his sister admitted him to Regional Mental Hospital at Yerawada after he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Despite him being stable now, his sister refuses to get him discharged from the hospital. With 15 years of experience working with software applications like Autocad, Dell cam power and others, his hope now rests with a new initiative that is helping patients reintegrate with their families and finding suitable jobs.
Over the past one year, Devrai, a 40-bed ward for long stay of mentally ill patients at the Regional Mental Hospital, the largest government hospital which is celebrating its centenary this year, has managed to reunite five patients with their families under the initiative Inclusion and Empowerment of People with Severe Mental Disorders (INCENSE) by Parivartan, an NGO.
“We have shortlisted three persons who are now stable and can work outside,” says Dr Amit Nulkar, psychiatrist and a member of INCENSE, which collaborating with mental hospitals in the endeavour.
A year ago, the INCENSE team at Parivartan, along with Regional Mental Hospital, the set up Devrai at the hospital. While the civil work for this ward was undertaken by the hospital, refurbishment was done through a grant received from Tata Trust, said Dr Hamid Dabholkar, one of the leading members of the Parivartan.
Dabholkar, who is the son of slain anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar, was helped by Sudipto Chatterjee, one of the coordinators of INCENSE who has also made a documentary Lapata Zindagi capturing the plight of homeless mentally ill people in Pune.
“Our work with the vulnerable group of homeless who are disoriented due to being mentally ill and have no clue what is going to happen to them also helped us set up this ward,” Dabholkar said.
According to Jai Adawadkar, clinical services coordinator at INCENSE, at least 20 people are now staying at the Devrai ward and are relatively stable. Of these, three have been shortlisted for working outside the government hospital and then returning to the ward after the day’s work is over.
“We have approached several socially aware agencies to help us in the effort,” Adawadkar said.
The Devrai ward helps train inmates for livelihood-based activity after which they are moved to a transit ward with bright cheerfully painted rooms as part of a preparatory stage before they move out into the community. “All this is being done in stages,” said Dr Bhalchandra Donglikar, superintendent of the Regional Mental Hospital that has 1,691 patients.
Since June this year, the hospital too has made special efforts to reunite at least 10 mentally ill patients with their families.