Mental Illness & Indian Perspective
The difference between a healthy person and one who is mentally ill is the fact that the healthy one has all the mental illness. and the
mentally ill person has only one.
Ms.Arti Kadam, Ms Subheshna Thapa, Ms. Binaifer Jesia
- Robert Musil
The mentally ill, the emotionally disturbed and those with severe personality disorders bear not only the anguish of their suffering but also the
additional burden of society’s indifference and ignorance. In spite of falling victim to false beliefs and deeply rooted misconception, the issue
of mental health features very low on our government’s agenda, and almost not at all on society’s list of priorities. In terms of government,
India undoubtedly subscribes to the democratic principles. However, its provisions for its mentally ill fall short for putting the principles into
The isolation of the mentally ill, the emotionally disturbed, that exists within society. Integrating rehabilitation into community treatment is a
necessity that cannot be further ignored.
In the last 30 years, there has been a shift to the social origins of mental health and illness. In fact, this line of thought is still in a
development phase. The dominant theories are of life stress, social support, social network and family life. It is interesting to note that there
is much discomfort in discomfort in viewing the ‘social roots’ of mental health and mental illness (Mane and Gandevia, 1996).
In a survey done by National Survey Study Organization (NSSO) on disabled people in India, it was seen that the number of persons suffering from
mental illness is 105 per one lakh population and it is one of the major disabilities ssen today. (sangeet, 2nd June, 06. The Hindu).
According to the amendments proposed to the persons With Disability Act by The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, “disability” means a
physical or mental impairment, which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability of a person to carry out normal day-to-day
activities. These include blindness, low vision, leprosy-cured, hearing impairment, loco-motor disability, mental retardation, and mental illness.
Health is neither a technical matter nor the exclusive arena of the expertise of some, but a wider vista to which individuals, groups and
institutions need to be able to contribute towards for the well-being of individuals, families and communities. (Mane and Gandevia, 1993).
In 1950 a WHO expert committee on mental health, reviewed the various definitions of mental health and observed “mental health is influenced by
both biological and social factors. It is not a static condition but subject to variations and fluctuations of degree; it is the capacity in an
individual to form harmonious relations and relationships with others, and to participate in or contribute constructively to change in his social
and physical environment. It implies also his /her own potentially conflicting instinctive drives in that it reaches an integrated synthesis rather
than the denial of satisfaction to certain instinctive tendencies as a means of avoiding the thwarting of others.”
[Madness] is the jail we could all end up in. And watch our step. For life time. We behave. A fantastic and entire system of social
control, by the threat of example as effective over the general population as detention centers in dictatordhips, the image of the
madhouse floats through every mind of the course of its lifetime.
Psychiatry was the last specialty to be incorporated into the field of medicine. Although it now has a definite place of its own, the medical
profession has for long focused its attention on physical illnesses alone. Matters related to the mind were regarded a separate entity to be
treated along with philosophy and religion. This resulted in a lot of magico-religious methods of treatment and these are still prevalent to a
large extent in India. Atharva Veda, the most important document of vedic medicine makes a mention of psychiatric illnesses. Drugs like “rauwolfia
sepentia” (sapargandha) were also known in the ancient times and were used an tranquilizers, but the majority still believed in magic formulae
against demons and evil spirits. Many of the mentally ill were left untreated because of the belief that their illness were a result of bad deeds
in their previous births or dealt with barbarically and brutally due to the misconception that the illness and its symptoms resulted from the
possession of the individual by an evil spirit. (De’souza & De’souza, 1984).
There are many diverse and compos mechanisms surrounding the issue that must be addressed. In order to achieve maximum recovery and true
integration, a holistic approach that addresses all aspects of mental illness. Ignored oand neglected by the government or state welfare agencies,
mental institutions are often used by family members of the patient as dumping grounds for the unwanted and eventually forgotten. Within the walls
of these institutions, although medical treatment is mostly administered, many individuals are written off as “lost causes” and face discrimination
at every possible juncture. The discrimination pervades every aspect of their lives and more often than not, even basic rights are openly flouted.
Complete intolerance towards of mentally ill people, society continues to shun its responsibilities towards this segment of society. So pervasive
and powerful is the stigma attached to mental illness and so scarce is accurate knowledge about mental illness, that families of these individuals
rarely explore any option other than isolation or just medication if and when the situation becomes unmanageable. Very often entire families are
forced into seclusion due to the sheer shame they experience. Adding to the misery of their existence, the ill are often blamed and held
responsible for the “shame” brought to the family.
Mental illness knows no boundaries. Mentally ill people from every economic strata and every class of society tend to face a similar reality. The
following are the possible reasons :
A mentally ill individual displays no overt signs of oa disorder. Completely “normal” physiologically, a mental
illness is difficult to detect and easier to hide. Given the stigma and the shame of being mentally ill, total withdrawal from society is often the
most preferred option.
Symptoms of mental illness emerge post-puberty or well into adulthood. Although born with the chemical imbalance, a
mentally ill adult may live a perfectly normal and healthy childhood and show little, if any, signs of a disorder before adulthood. No diagnostic
tools for early detection exist. As a result, the problems tend to be more complex and tolerance for erratic behaviors stemming unknowingly from
the illness is virtually non-existent. The lack of visibility of the illness makes it an abstract phenomenon, difficult to understand and more
challenging to accept.
In spite of proof from all over the world that demonstrates high recovery potential amongst the mentally oil, almost
no opportunities, formal or otherwise, exist in India for rehabilitation and holistic therapy. It has also been made evident that medicine alone is
not conductive to reintegration and that rehabilitative therapy must be administered concurrently with medical treatment for the successful
integration of the mentally ill into mainstream society.
Social acceptance for mentally ill people is affected because of the lack of awareness and education among the people
on the illness. People in general often associate or connect mental illness with violence and “insane” behavior.
The family who are more often than not considered to be the primary agents of socialization, shy away from any such
attempts due to fear of being identified with mentally ill member due to the embarrassment and shame they anticipate with their social circle.
Therefore, the space for social acceptance and socialization becomes more limited when there is lack of involvement from the family itself.
The high expenses involved in the process of treatment makes treatment a daunting proposition for the family,
especially for those from economically disadvantaged segments of society with limited resources for sustenance.
Nothing defines the quality of life in a community more clearly than people who regard themselves, or whom the consensus chooses to
regard, as mentally unwell.
The fast pace globalization, industrialization and modernization of society has resulted in stress, broken families and unstable relationships. The
sudden demise of a loved one and other such unexpected happenings lead to depression and frustration as well as to mental disorders and behavioral
changes. The natural delay in the identification and diagnosis of mental disorders has further contributed to the maturity of the illness and the
often-unfulfilled need for prolonged rehabilitation, care and treatment.
Moreover, the lack of economic resources and professional interventions for the mentally ill in addition to the apathy of the government’s health
and welfare departments has made the scenario even bleaker. India alone has 1.25 million people who are suffering from mental illness and nearly 25
million are still in need of mental health services.
In recognition of the current dearth of services and the growing need for a multifaceted approach, The MANAV Foundation committed itself to The
MANAV Rehabilitation Project for the mentally ill and emotionally disturbed by extending a supportive environment of quality care and treatment.
This project has established the provision of services in an attempt to most effectively reach the target population that is inclusive of not only
of the individuals with mental ill nesses but that also extend to the family and or other care-givers, the professional community, and the general
The MANAV Foundation believes of the ripple effect theory and are convinced of the intended effect of the work they have undertaken. The need is
large and growing. As are other organizations striving to fulfill this need, The MANAV Foundation is committed to the issue of mental health and
participation its evolution and growth within society.
Ms. Arti Kadam
Student Social Worker, MANAV Foundation
Ms. Subheshna Thapa
Student Social Worker, MANAV Foundation
Ms. Binaifer Jesia
Director, MANAV Foundation