Twenty-six-year-old Jayant (name changed) is interested in food, art and numbers. He combined his interests by becoming an accountant at South East Cafe in Koregaon Park, where he also designed the menu. Jayant is also a recovered patient of substance abuse who has relapsed thrice. “I came to the Chaitanya Institute of Mental Health on my own because I wanted to control the cravings. I previously worked in the hospital cafe and am now an accountant here in South East cafe,” he says.
Abhinav (name changed), 32, is a graduate from the Institute of Hotel Management in Mumbai and undertook higher studies in the culinary arts in Canada. Abhinav specialises in tandoor and grill cuisines at South East Cafe. “My friends used drugs to cope with the stress of recession. I started smoking a few drags of marijuana, and before I realised it, I became a chronic addict. My parents brought me to Chaitanya Institute of Mental Health six months ago,” he says.
Jayant and Abhinav are among the three staff members at South East Cafe who were suffering from mental health issues.
The founder of Chaitanya Institute of Mental Health, Roney George, provided jobs to mental health patients at his food venture, South East Cafe. “The biggest roadblock faced by these people is that society considers them misfits. Due to absenteeism and non-punctuality, they are considered unproductive. But employers fail to realise the reason behind this. This mounts up pressure and leaves a negative impact on the person’s health,” says George.
A mental health expert, George is also passionate about food. “I came to Pune in 1993 for my studies and did a part-time job at a cafe for Rs 450 per month for five years. I started a small cafe in Chaitanya two years ago. I asked two of my patients to look after this cafe. They handled it well. This gave me the idea to start a restaurant where mental health patients, who are not accepted by society as suitable candidates for jobs, can work. I could help a few recovering patients to take up small responsibilities there,” he says.
He and a friend, Sabu Varghese, who has been in the hospitality industry for 20 years, decided to start South East Cafe in Koregaon Park. “My aim is to provide them with a supportive and understanding work environment where they can recover from their struggles and become capable of handling stress. Once they are familiar with the amount of stress in work life, they can slowly and gradually adapt themselves to survive in the outside world. This will reduce their chances of relapse,” says George.
Chaitanya Institute of Mental Health has three centres in Pune and one each in Goa, Kerala and Kathmandu. Since its establishment in 1993, Chaitanya Institute of Mental Health has treated several patients suffering from schizophrenia, mood disorders, personality disorders, substance-related disorders and geriatric disorders.