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SKEWED PATTERNS Men by virtue of being bread winners are treated while women are shut out
SKEWED PATTERNS Men by virtue of being bread winners are treated while women are shut out

Don't exclude women with mental illness from society. They can be treated with medication and personal care

When it comes to mental illness (as opposed to mental retardation), we need to agree gender is the major factor. It is a depressing thought. Whether it is plain depression (second leading cause of global ill-health by 2020) or a combination of psychological disorders like schizophrenia, paranoid thoughts or OCD, women's names fill more pages. The reasons are many, from stress, malnutrition, hunger, humiliation, income inequality, low social status, constant responsibility for the care of others, to biological causes and sexual abuse.

Treatable

Turn the pages of woman's history. The weaker sex, emotionally unstable, psychologically non-durable. She flirts? Man-crazy! Reads newspapers and insists on social interaction? Total nymphomaniac. She protests? Hysterical. Doctors will diagnose depression in women more than in men with similar symptoms. But a passive homemaker? Prostrate before this goddess. Psychiatrists say breakdown is often brought on by years of male domination. The good news: "It can be hereditary but is treatable and controllable with medication and personal care," said Dr. Lakshmi Sundar at The Banyan.Awareness is listening to a group of women at The Banyan. Priyavardhini, 52, abandoned. Husband was a government servant, they had two young boys. She developed mental illness, wandered away from home. Volunteers discovered the boys are both software engineers in the city. "My husband remarried," she said, without emotion. Her brother usurped family property. "If I go back, my sons might be harmed."Uma gets cheap baubles from her seldom-sober husband in exchange for the money she earns at The Banyan. Pretty Deepali's husband has a new bride and a child. Kalpana who manages food delivery interrupts, "The neighbours are cruel. Our families don't want to face their taunts." Banyan arranges their home visits. Thiruchelvi, 30, a Psychology graduate demanded, "Why aren't we treated as people?" My startled expression got this explanation: "I'm with Vizhudugal, a support group (of cured but drug-dependent women) that fights for our demands." And they are? "A ration card, an ID to get loans for small businesses, SHG, hostel, employment, voting rights and subsidised medicines." She was abandoned by her husband following post-partum psychosis. Kalakshetra-trained block-printer Anu's uncle won't part with property that is legally hers. Amudha escaped from an abusive husband, but her father's death made her destitute. "For seven months I was on the road," she said, "and raped repeatedly." Molestation is a fact of life outside. "In 14 years, The Banyan has sent home 450 women after recovery," said helper Chaitali. "There are others scared of relapse and responsibility."

Rehabilitation

"These are nowhere women," said Dr. Sharada Menon, Founder, SCARF. "We need better management of the disorder. The illiterate lack awareness, the educated refuse medication." Treatment is what the husband/family gives. "I run a home in Thiruverkadu. After medication and counselling women return home to reconstruct their lives. The YWCA gives them vocational training. We've trained families of women with psychiatric problems to form an SHG." Legal recourse? "Divorce is granted only when a woman is proved incapable of being a wife, mother or householder. Most men simply shut the door on them and remarry. Who will fight for alimony?"Psychiatrist Dr. Lakshmi Vijayakumar believes the higher incidence may be because women are health seeking, while men take refuge in alcohol, drug abuse, wife beating and child molesting. "An interesting feature here is men with mental disorders are likely to be married while women are single - widowed or separated."Treatment patterns are skewed. Potential breadwinners, men get medication regularly. "A young woman will nurse a schizophrenic husband through illness. Our studies tell us men do not. Women have fewer treatment options. There is exclusion all the way." Citing the case of a rehabilitated government officer, she adds dryly, "A lot of depressed women do get support. Otherwise there would be more on the roads." "Mental illness is not a mystic one," said Dr. Sundar. "Patients need care and support at the primary level followed by rehab. Those who get well must be empowered to become advocacy champions." The women's appeal is unanimous. "Tell film and TV serial makers not to depict us as unwanted beings. Ask reporters to improve their language when they write about us. Don't look at us with stigma. Let us in."GEETA PADMANABHAN

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