Nothing moved. Nobody talked. When M.Govindha Nayaka, a patient at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for the past five years, reunited with his family members on Tuesday inside ward 11 after a gap of 25 years, silent emotions took precedence over words.

He is among the many ‘long-stay' patients at the IMH. Picked up by the police while he was wandering on the streets of Nagercoil in 2005, Mr. Nayaka was diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia and sent to the IMH, Chennai.

Until he gained brief glimmers of consciousness to give the name of his hometown, a remote village near Mysore, to a Kannada speaking post-graduate student, he was just a statistic – one among the 1,522 patients at IMH.

R.Sathianathan, Director, IMH, says Mr.Nayaka is possibly the only patient in the Institute's history to be reunited with family members after a gap of 25 years.

“Very rarely, we have cases where family members somehow locate the patient after five years. Usually, in the case of the wandering mentally-ill, the family just loses hope. Some even perform the last rites.” It was just luck that his family did not shift address in more than two decades and the postman in his native town could find the residence using his father's name.

It was also extremely coincidental that G.Archana, the postgraduate student, could speak Kannada and hailed from a village near Mysore. A postcard was sent on July 8, written in Kannada.

“Somebody listening to a patient patiently for five minutes seems to have brought back 25 years of memory,” says Dr.Sathianathan. “No one still knows what he was doing in the intervening 20 years before he was brought to the Institute. When he goes back home, nostalgia might trigger past memories.”

Stressing that there is nothing like home, he adds, “If a patient has good social support, there is a 30 to 40 per cent chance of reasonable remission.”

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