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

The event was inaugurated by former head of the Institute Sarada Menon. Doctors, who addressed the programme, urged families to remain alert to changes in a person’s behaviour and attitude to life and work. When relatives do not pay attention to the changes the person’s condition deteriorates, they said.

Dr. Menon explained to the gathering, including nursing students and patient attendants, that mental illness is like any other illness but the cause is not yet known. “The stigma associated with meeting a psychiatrist prevents people from seeking treatment,” she added.

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 persons and to our shock we found 115 wandering mentally ill persons. These people from north India were left behind by their families. They were sent to the IMH in Chennai for treatment,” she said releasing a Tamil handbook on the Chennai District Mental Health Scheme.

IMH Director R. Sathianathan said the civic body would conduct weekly health camps to 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.