For 22 years, Pune’s regional mental hospital has been Mangal Sonawane’s home. Shunned by her family for an illness —schizophrenia —they did not understand, Mangal was sent to the government hospital to recover. And when she started successfully coping with the mental illness, no relative welcomed her back. Until a week ago— when Mangal was finally reunited with her 30-year-old son Bharat Dhumal, who took her to his home.
“I know it took this long. But I had no source of income. My father had remarried and my mother was sent to hospital when I was barely six or seven. I don’t remember either of them and my aunt Malan Jadhav raised me along with her other children. I could study only up to Standard VII and then tried to find odd jobs. If it were not for my aunt, I would have been begging on the streets,” Bharat told The Indian Express.
Loneliness haunted him. Bharat’s attempts to contact his father Dilip went in vain as he had passed away. But the thought of his mother staying for so long at the hospital made him miserable and he did several odd jobs to get a regular monthly income so that he could get her home. “I was staying with my aunt’s family. No one really wanted my mother. My uncle refused to entertain any talk about her and did not even take me to the hospital. It was tough but I had to learn to wait,” he said.
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At the hospital, Smita Bhosale, psychiatric social worker said it was a challenging task to locate Mangal’s relatives as her husband was dead. Mangal was brought to the hospital in 1994 by her father after she suffered hallucinations and other symptoms of schizophrenia, a severe mental disorder.
She used to make irrelevant talk and could not remember anything. After several years, she started talking about her brother and husband and gave us her home address. By then, her brother had moved to another place. Though our letters sent to Mangal’s brother’s old home reached him at his new place, he did not respond to our communication,” she recalled.
When Mangal was a lot better, she was recommended a discharge but there were no relatives and she had to stay back. “There are an approximate 150 such long stay patients – some for more than 25 years — whose relatives are either very poor or cite several reasons for not taking them back,” admits Dr Kalpana Thade, senior psychiatrist who is officiating as medical superintendent at the hospital that spans across 110 acres and is the largest institution in Asia that cares for more than 1700 mentally ill patients.
Eventually, they located Mangal’s brother’s address and contact details. He refused to meet them and it was only in 2014 that Mangal’s son Bharat contacted the hospital in Pune. “I had started working at a powerloom in Ichalkaranji, Kolhapur, earning Rs 7000 per month. I also got married and have a nine-month-old daughter Swananda. However, I had to prove my identity and it took me some time to collect photographs and relevant documents so that I could get my mother home. What can I say. I was happy to meet her. But I felt sad that she had to suffer so much,” said Bharat.
According to the psychiatrists, chances of recovery always improve when the patient has supportive relatives and family. “We often send the patient – specially in cases of severe mental disorder – for two months to their own homes to check if both the patient and the family members can cope. Mangal is on lifelong medication and being with the family, looking after the grandchild is likely to help her emotionally,” Bhosale said.
Bharat now no longer feels lonely as not only does he have his family, but also two best women to look after, an aunt who raised him and a mother he had never met all these years!