Free service at public facilities a boon for Madurai’s poor but psychiatry remains a stigmatised profession

The District Mental Health Programme (DMHP) has turned out to be a saviour to poor people in need of psychiatric treatment in Madurai district. Thanks to the free service, scores of poor patients have survived depression and many are on the road to recovery.

The accounts of some of those treated by mental health experts show why Madurai has been rated as the top performing district at the national level in implementation of the programme. People who cannot afford costly medicines are the major beneficiaries.

The family of a 35-year-old Schizophrenia patient at Melur is an example. For the last five years, his family members were having sleepless nights because of sudden behaviour disorder that gripped him. “Now, there is improvement in my brother’s condition. Earlier, he used to have bouts of violence. He studied up to Plus Two and was working in a rice shop till a doctor detected his abnormal mental condition. My parents and I take care of him. He is taking treatment at the Government Hospital in Melur,” says the patient’s brother. The family are daily wage earners.

Another example is that of a woman from a village near Usilampatti. The anxiety of bringing up her children had plunged the 32-year-old woman into depression.. Her husband sells ‘murukku’ for a living while the affected woman stays at home with her two children. “Just today, I went to Usilampatti G H to collect medicines for her. She got mentally disturbed by thinking too much about running the family. She went into depression and has been taking treatment for the past two years,” the worried husband said on Tuesday.

The road to recovery at the home of a 56-year-old woman in Tirunagar near here is another instance of how psychiatric intervention in a free government healthcare facility gives hope for the needy. “My husband left me after his business suffered a huge loss. I was in a severe state of shock and am taking treatment for the past one year at the Tirumangalam GH every Tuesday. My neighbours asked to me to go for treatment and now I am feeling better,” says the patient.

S. Sivasangari, the psychiatrist taking care of DMHP in the district, says that the approach to mental health care has changed for the better after the major fire tragedy at Erwadi in Ramanathapuram district in 2001. Free treatment and medicines are available even at taluk hospitals and primary health centres. The central government is also allotting funds for the mental health programme. Mobile camps are conducted to detect mental illness early. Depending on the severity of the case, the psychiatric team admits patients in Usilampatti GH, she said.

Depression, experts say, is going to be a major challenge in coming years. V. Ramanujam, Professor of Psychiatry at Government Rajaji Hospital-Madurai Medical College, predicts that mental illness caused by depression is going to be the major disease after cardiovascular complaints by 2020.

The sizable presence of psychiatrists and mental health professionals in Madurai district is a beacon of hope. (Those who are looking for assistance or medical help can contact Dr. Sivasangari on 94874 93641).

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