In his blue jeans and shiny white sneakers, the man stands a few feet away from the booth set up outside Hazrat Kale Peer Baba Shah dargah in Noida’s Sector 62. He now staggers towards it and picks up a pamphlet, his hand trembling, avoiding eye contact with the team standing behind the counter.
Around him are standees on ‘Signs of Dementia’, and flexboards on depression, listing symptoms to watch out for, among them ‘tension’ and ‘lack of sleep’. On the counter are Outdoor Patient Duty (OPD) cards, a box of medicines and a carton of refreshments.
“We are from the government hospital in Sector 39 (Noida). Bataiye. Aap ko koi pareshani hai (Tell us, do you have a problem)?” asks Rajni Srivastava, a pyschiatric social worker, one of four people in the booth today.
They are here as part of ‘Dua se Dawa’, an initiative under the National Mental Health Programme that aims to identify people with mental health problems who seek out places such as dargahs and temples in the hope of divine intervention.
“Essentially, we identify places of religious worship where people gather for blessings in the hope that their problems will be resolved. We are not here to challenge their spiritual belief. We just want to tell them that while they continue to seek spiritual healing, science can heal you better,” says Dr Bharat Bhushan who heads the District Mental Health Programme (DMHP) team in Gautam Buddha Nagar.
While there is no fixed calendar for the programme, Bhushan says they try to hold a camp every six weeks. “Our team does a recce of places where people come looking for a witch-doctor, saint or cleric in the hope that their mental illness will be cured,” he says.
This is the fourth such camp in Noida in the last five months. Today, the team of four — Srivastava, psychiatric doctor Dr Tanuja Gupta, clinical psychologist Niti Singh, and psychiatric nurse Soni — from the Government Multi-Speciality District Hospital in Noida’s Sector 39 has been at the dargah since noon.
The young man standing at the booth opens up after a little prodding. “I often have nightmares,” he says, his eyes still downcast. “Sometimes I don’t feel I belong to this world. The only connection I have with the real world is through alcohol. I don’t know what to do. So I often come here, hoping God will help me,” says the 32-year-old.
“Ma’am, I will not lie to you. I drank this morning too. My marriage is in a mess. I feel I will lose it all if I don’t get help,” he adds.
All through the conversation, Srivastava closely takes down notes. She then fills out details on the OPD card of the Sector 39 hospital and writes ‘ADS’ on the patient’s form. “Addiction is a mental health problem. There is no harm in enrolling in a de-addiction centre. Why don’t you come to the hospital? It will be good for you,” says Dr Gupta.
Psychologist Singh examines the man’s nails, looking for visible discolouration and symptoms of anaemia.
Handing him the OPD card, along with a Frooti and a pack of Parle-G biscuits, Srivastava says, “His is a classic case of Alcohol Dependency Syndrome. His addiction is so severe that withdrawal makes him hallucinatory. People often normalise addiction, but it’s very much a mental problem. We have referred him to the hospital in Sector 30 so that he gets medical help.”
The man now walks back towards the dargah, takes off his sneakers and sits on the carpet at the entrance, under the tin sheet awning around the shrine. It’s now 1 pm and in the warm afternoon sun, a few other devotees are sitting on the carpet under a canopy of prayer flags, the air filled with faint prayers sung to the music of a harmonium. Next to the singer, a small crowd has gathered around a cleric.
A 37-year-old woman walks up to the team and talks about the pain in her knee joints. “Bahut dard hota hai (It hurts a lot),” she begins.
Pyschologist Singh writes her a referral letter for a doctor in the government hospital, explaining politely that they are here to help people with mental troubles. “This is a challenge we face. People think we are general physicians and tell us about their routine aches and pains. We are not equipped to prescribe them medicines,” says Singh.
Thirty-year old Rukhsar is now standing metres away from the booth, holding her two children by their hands and watching
Dr Gupta speak to patients. One of her children struggles to get free of her tight clutches, but Rukhsar’s gaze is fixed on the booth.
Dr Tanuja notices Rukhsar and calls out to her. “You can speak to us. We are here to help. Don’t be shy,” she says, handing her a Frooti.
“I often get headaches and I feel irritated. I also feel sometimes that nothing will get better, that it’s all going downhill. I am afraid to talk about it,” she says in a low voice. Gupta prescribes the woman Alprazolam and tells her that she shouldn’t ignore her headaches if they have been going on for long. “Why don’t you come to the hospital, where we can talk more freely about this,” says Gupta.
Rukhsar, now visibly relaxed, walks away, still clutching the hands of her two children.
It’s now 5 pm and Srivastava’s register has recorded over 90 names, around 40 with “mild depression” and the rest with “anxiety, insomnia and mental fatigue”.
According to figures provided by the District Mental Health team, almost 180 patients are treated every month for possible mental health diseases at the Noida District Hospital. Almost 30 patients visit the psychiatry OPD between 8 am and 2 pm for three days a week.
As evening approaches, the standees are rolled up and the chart is taken down. “In the first camp that we held, there was no OPD… we didn’t hand out any prescriptions. This is the maximum response we have received in one camp,” says Srivastava, holding a thick file of forms with details of people she expects to see at the hospital for further consultation.
By 6 pm, the team has re-gathered at the hospital to submit the report, including the OPD cards, photographs of the event and other documents. The team also takes stock of the medicines and refreshments left.
“Tomorrow, we will hold a meeting to discuss this camp and then hope that at least some of the faces we saw today will turn up for follow-up treatment,” says Dr Gupta.
It’s now dark and the dargah is all lit. A large crowd has gathered for the evening prayers. The young man in white sneakers is still sitting on the carpet. As the singing reaches a crescendo, the man sways gently, the crumpled prescription paper in his hand.