Taking up the cause of persons with mental illness, their families and care-givers, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has asked State governments to explore the possibility of identifying employment opportunities under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme that are particularly suitable for such people.

Citing a recent government order of the Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Department of Tamil Nadu, through which guidelines have been laid down for employment guarantee schemes for disabled persons, the Health Ministry has said States can conduct studies specifically for tasks to be undertaken by persons with mental illnesses.

The Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995, recognises mental illness as one of the eight conditions defined as disability. However, there are significant differences between physical disabilities and their consequences and their impact on the persons concerned and the disabilities arising out of mental illness.

“Persons with mental illness may often be physically fit but their illness may be such that it prevents them from doing a full day’s work,” Keshav Desiraju, Special Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, has written to the States.

However, with some thought and attention, it should be possible to prepare a well designed set of job descriptions, which rural development staff would find easy to implement, he said.

The Ministry of Rural Development is also preparing operational guidelines with specific reference to vulnerable groups, including persons with mental illness.There are also guidelines which allow for time and motion studies to be conducted, as has been done by the Tamil Nadu government, in the process of framing viable work opportunities.

It has also been noticed that if a household includes a person with mental illness then another member of the household often stays at home, foregoing an income, in order to care of the person with the illness. Such a situation could lead to abandonment of the mentally ill person.

“It may be possible for jobs under MNREGS being identified for persons who are undertaking care-giving activity of this sort. This may also be a way of providing employment opportunity to older persons,” the Ministry has said.

Senior citizens are in any case already proposed to be included in the category of vulnerable groups for whom a strategy is being devised, the letter said.

According to the guidelines issued by the Tamil Nadu government, special activities have been identified for disabled people in the MGNREGS works after assessing the work they can do and the duration for which they can work.

Importantly, considering the physical and mental limitations of these workers, they may be allowed intermittent rest/breaks during working hours and workers may be allowed to leave once they complete the required outturn before time.