Ramya Kannan

Chennai: Mrs. Fernandes’ (name changed) son has been ill with schizophrenia for several years now.

Her big worry is how her son will manage after she is gone. “Who will take care of him like I do, all the time? And where will the money come from,” she asks.

This Sunday, on World Schizophrenia Awareness Day, the focus turns on care-givers such as Mrs. Fernandes and patients like her son, who have only each other to lean on. With others, when the caregiver is the husband or wife, who is the only earning member, they are looking for a relief from the daily effort at care giving, says R.Thara, director, Schizophrenia Research Foundation. The lack of short stay homes or day care centres, even community care centres, run by the government imposes a huge burden on families and sole caregivers.

Subramaniam, an auto driver, is the only person available to take care of his wife who became ill after their son died over a year ago. He gives her medicines before he leaves at 8 a.m. and comes back home after work at 9 p.m. “She is actually doing better now. Earlier, I had to keep coming home and check on her. With the drugs, things are improving.”

A study conducted at SCARF indicated that a computation of monthly expenses for a family dealing with schizophrenia on medicines, travelling to the clinic/hospital, subsequent loss of wages and expenses incurred during the process can amount to Rs.800 to Rs.1,200 per month. “This does not cover the loss of man hours because of loss of productivity of the patient and loss of hours from taking care of the patient,” says R. Mangala, psychiatrist, SCARF. People with mental illness do not have any kind of medical insurance cover, she adds.

Initial trends from a study conducted by The Banyan along with the Ratan Tata Trust showed that a disability allowance of Rs. 400 per month made a huge difference to the patient and family. “The capacity to come back for rehabilitation and prevent relapse has increased among this group,” says Vandana Gopikumar of The Banyan. The Banyan also runs a protected community care set-up in Kovalam.