A new budding activism in Tamil Nadu on Mental Health

Suresh D

Background
Around 450 Million persons are mentally disturbed throughout the World. In India 10-15% of the population are affected by mental illness. Since mental health is not given importance like physical health, the numbers of the mentally ill in India is increasing every year. Around 650,000 people are affected in Tamil Nadu alone. Generally, one hesitates to seek medical help when mentally affected. This is because of stigma around the issue of mental illness. One needs to give the same consideration to mental illness as that of physical illness.

Mental illness affects individuals in all ages. Mentally ill persons also try to commit suicide and end their life. Around 800,000 individuals commit suicide throughout the World every year. Most of them are in the age group between 15 to 44 years. The reason for getting affected are hereditary, working environment, family problems, sexual problems, unemployment, cheating, failure, doubt, competition, jealousy, and drug abuse. Due to mental illness, sadness, continuous headache, loss of appetite, digestive problems, fear, hallucination, delusion, hopelessness, negative thoughts, guilt feelings and suicidal thoughts may occur.  Alcohol or any traditional mythological drugs is not a medicine to treat mental distress.

Government of India Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in 2013 introduced the Mental Health Care Bill in the Parliament and the same has been referred to the Standing committee. The Standing Committee submitted the bill to the Parliament with certain changes. This Bill will replace the Mental Health Act, 1987.

In Tamilnadu, District Mental Health Programme (DMHP) was launched in 1997 in Trichy and based on the effectiveness of the project, it was extended to another 24 districts in a phased manner. DMHP is a community based mental Health care programme based on the guidelines of National Mental Health Programmes fully funded by the Government of India with the prime objective of reaching the unreached.

Since mental health has been an evolving focus in the area of health, we, as a resource/like-minded/working group wanted to create a forum on this issue joining in all the stakeholders strategically through advocacy and lobbying. We are also planning to organise, train and sensitize the people towards their Mental Health rights.

TNPMHF an Initiative:

Tamil Nadu People’s Mental Health Forum (TNPMHF) is an informal people’s based network working for the rights of persons with Mental Health issues with strategy of advocacy and lobbying with stakeholders contributing towards knowledge, resources and skills to policy development and implementation. TNPMHF promotes Mental Health in collaboration with member organisations and other stakeholders. It also works for equitable access to Mental Health Services and to champion the reduction of Mental Health disparities. Dr. K.Shanmugavelayutham (TNFORCES), SOCHARA GB Member, is the Convenor and Dr. Nareshkumar (PRAYASS) (A SOCHARA associate) is the Co-convenor of this Forum.

Some of the activities that the forum has done are :

1. A memorandum with 10 demands were submitted to the Principal Secretary, Department of Health and Family Welfare, Government of Tamil Nadu on 01-08-2015

2. A memorandum was also submitted to the Director of Medical Services, Government of Tamil Nadu on 01-08-2015.

3. A complaint sent to the National Human Rights Commission regarding the denial of emergency medical service treatment of a person with mental illness in two hospitals on 25-08-2015. 

4. On 16.09.2015, during the Assembly session, a set of demands sent to the 20 important opposition MLAs regarding the need for holistic Mental Health Services.

5. On the World Mental Health Day on October 10, 2015 a rally was organized at Marina Beach where more than 350 civil society representatives participated. The theme was ‘Dignity with Mental Health’.  Mr. S.P. Mathur, IPS, Former Director General of police presided over and Ms. Padma Venkataraman a well known social worker flagged off the rally. A set of demands were presented to the Principal Secretary, Department of Health and Family Welfare, Government of Tamil Nadu. A speech was delivered by organiser at the end of the rally with a street play on "Mental in Streets". This rally received good coverage in the media.

6. TNPMHF participated in the Panel Discussion on ‘Legislation and Policy Issues on Mental Health’ on October 10, 2015 at Janaki Ramachandran College of Arts and Science. This programme was organized by Win O Win consulting organization.

7. A critique on National Mental Health Policy 2013 was done and sent to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, New Delhi. 

8. A campaign has been started for the enactment of National Mental Health Care Bill, 2013.  In a Makkal Nalavazhvu Iyyakam (People’s Health Movement, Tamil Nadu) meeting at Thiruchirapalli there was a session on mental health issues.

9. Right to Information applications were sent to different government departments regarding Mental Health programmes and services. Some of the queries were pertaining to Mental Health service in the Indian system of Medicine, State Institute of Mental Hospital – services, staff position, vacancies, data on In-patients and Outpatients and new admission numbers and on the functioning of the District mental health program

10.   A whatsapp communication group was initiated with 38 members where important news items and information regarding mental health are shared.

References:

Tamil Nadu State Mental Health Authority http://www.tnhealth.org/mh.htm

Current status, impact and future recommendations for the District Mental Health Programme. 

National seminar 'Perspectives on Mental Illness in India' held from 1 - 3 July in Chennai by The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health (BALM) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-NVYtdkjoM