Patients at Institute of Mental Health, Erragadda, are deserted by family members

This could be the worst nightmare for anybody to come across. A situation where patients are deserted by the kith and kin in the hospital! With the patients unable to recall the place where they belong to, the hospital ward’s four walls become a sanctuary for them.

Fictitious addresses

And, when the police finally manage to pin down their address, either it turns out to be a fictitious one or the family has already moved on to a new city or a new place. Those who are successfully sent back to their homes, seldom come back to the hospital for a follow-up. It’s as if they simply vanish.

That’s the state of many patients with mental illness and the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), Erragadda is a home away from home. With nothing in terms of a plan to integrate them with families and the society, they languish in the wards. On an average, close to five per cent of the in-patients are abandoned by their families.

Even when the hospital offered the option of family wards and open wards, which means that family members and friends can stay with the severely ill, there are few takers. “Some family members stay for a few days and then vanish. Many furnish wrong address so that they can’t be traced. We have to approach the police to trace the families,” explains Superintendant, IMH, Dr. V. Pramod Kumar.

Many point out that the police, with their own other workloads, take a lot of time in tracing back the families of the mentally ill. Till that time, the chronic mentally ill patients languish here with lack of any government programme or shelter homes to support them adding to the travails.

“The government has conveniently forgotten about the mentally ill. There should be a dedicated Trust and hostels with enough facilities to look after the mentally ill. Western countries are way ahead in providing such facilities. The society in general refuses to recognise them,” says Lakkaraju Nirmala, who manages a special school, Aathmeeya Vikasa Kendra.

Misconception

Doctors point out that a misconceived perception that the chronically ill mental patients can’t be managed has led to the families abandoning them. This, the IMH Superintendant says, drives them to the wall. “We have people to counsel families before admissions. Many hail from poor families and they find it tough to dedicate to support such patients,” adds Dr. Pramod.