A daylong event including cultural programmes was held at the Institute of Mental Health on Friday to raise awareness about preventing mental illnesses.

The event, which was inaugurated by former head of the institute Sarada Menon, was aimed at the local population. Doctors urged families to remain alert to changes in a person’s behaviour and attitude to life and work. When relatives neglect to pay attention to the changes the person’s condition deteriorates, they said.

Dr. Menon in her address, explained to the gathered nursing students and patient attendants about mental illness.

“It is like any other illness but the cause is not yet known. The stigma associated with meeting a psychiatrist prevents people from pursuing treatment,” she said. This was the reason for the lack of link between professionals and paraprofessionals, she said. “When the patient recovers the family should not stop medication, otherwise the illness could relapse.

Every new attack will make the patient more disabled,” Dr. Menon said. Chennai Corporation’s Deputy Commissioner for Health B. Jothi Nirmala recalled her experience in Kanyakumari during her tenure as collector there.

“We held camps to identify mentally ill patients and to our shock we found 115 wandering mentally ill persons. These people were left behind by families in north India. They were sent to the IMH here for treatment,” she said releasing a Tamil handbook on the Chennai District Mental Health Scheme. She recalled that a relative was treated at the IMH for 40 years before he was recently reunited with the family.

Institute director R. Sathianathan said the civic body would conduct weekly health camps to enable identify mental ailments early to prevent chronic ailments. Psychiatric health educators in primary healthcare centres would help identify the problems early and prevent illness, he said.

Nursing students from Billroth Nursing College, Saveetha Nursing College and Vinayaka Nursing College presented skits on the role played by alcohol, pre-marital counselling and ageing in mental illness.

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