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Home arrow Language & Literature arrow The Palgrave Handbook of Sociocultural Perspectives on Global Mental Health
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Future Ways Forward

We will have to get off the beaten track and embark upon this journey without a road map to help us along. We will have to invent solutions. We have the technical skills required to achieve this goal. Do we have the wisdom to choose the right path?

The mental health scene in India at the dawn of the twenty-first century is a bewildering mosaic of immense impoverishment, asymmetrical distribution of scarce resources, islands of relative prosperity intermixed with vast areas of deprivation, conflicting interests and the apparent apathy of governments and the governed alike. In the context of the huge and perhaps unsustainable levels of over-population, the problems appear to be insoluble. Yet a solution must be found if we are to survive with human dignity. This calls for courage, vision and a vibrant spirit of innovation, unburdened with the obsolescent shibboleths of ignorance, silence and unconcern.

Dealing with the ultra-marginalized groups is not just ideological posturing from a human rights platform; it makes sound developmental sense. Mental illness and homelessness are two pervasive issues that societies need to urgently address, for both have a negative impact on the lives of individuals and communities.

In the long run, the organization hopes to offer an alternative model of understanding of mental distress as well as caregiving for the distressed. This will provide an alternative to how society perceives and deals with mental illness and mentally ill persons. It will also address the complex interactions between current social perception and the standard medical understanding of these phenomena, the latter often contributing to pathologization and marginalization of human beings. The successes of the Naya Daur program have been modest, yet by offering at least a modicum of support and medical treatment, however imperfect, to the homeless mentally ill, Iswar Sankalpa believes that it has taken some critical steps toward a creation of a humane and respectful environment for those suffering from mental disorders.

Training and sensitizing of police personnel, community leaders and community-based organizations need to be scaled up in order to generate more acceptance of the community for such people. Community caregivers need to be recognized for their contribution to the cause. We have heard of the concept of street medicine pioneered by Dr Withers in Pennsylvania[1] comprising a mobile team which addressed the health needs of the homeless population. In the city of Geel in Belgium, families routinely adopt persons from the asylum and encourage their recovery within the family, set up as an alternative to institutional care. The Government of Belgium supports this initiative with a financial compensation for the support and adoption of the mentally ill in families.[2]

It is on the streets of Kolkata that Iswar Sankalpa has initiated a process where community members extend care to the homeless mentally ill and become the proxy family without any financial compensation expected for this act of compassion. It reinforces the belief in the brotherhood of man. It dispels the myth that mental illness is always associated with violence. It addresses the stigma attached to mental illness and the belief in people’s minds that a chronic mentally ill person is a lifelong burden to society. All of this happens before the eyes of the world and not behind the walls of an asylum. The evidence thus generated is impossible to refute in the general public perception.

  • [1] http://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/07/us/cnn-heroes-homeless-doctor-jim-withers/
  • [2] http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/psychiatric-community-care-belgian-town-sets-gold-standard- 1.2557698
 
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