A mixture of faith and medicine

The 'Samaya Karuppu' Temple inside the Pandikoil premises serves as a faith healing centre for many in the district. Photo: R. Ashok   | Photo Credit: R_ASHOK

When 18-year-old Gopinathan (name changed) of Varichiyur underwent a behavioural change owing to his addiction to cannabis a couple of years ago, his parents took him to a priest who told them that their child was possessed by an evil spirit which can only be purged at a faith healing centre in Tiruchi. Without any delay, the boy was taken to the centre where he was tonsured and branded with hot iron on his head.

A few days later, Gopinathan’s health deteriorated. When a group of psychiatrists working for the District Mental Health Programme (DMHP) learnt about the incident, they approached the family and offered medical aid. Later, the boy showed signs of recovery. It was this case that turned out to be a catalyst in the introduction of a sensitisation programme for faith healers, who are by far deemed to be the most socially acceptable people to cure mental illness.

According to World Health Organisation, around three per cent of Indian population suffers from serious mental illnesses which require immediate attention. Unfortunately, the country has hardly about 5,000 psychiatrists to serve the 1.2 billion population, C. Ramasubramanian, State Nodal Officer, Mental Health Programme, said.

Concerned over the scenario, the Centre launched a mental health programme aimed at involving the community in treatment of mental illnesses.

Dr. Ramasubramanian said, “Religion plays a significant role in India, especially when it comes to mental health. People in rural areas believe that psychiatric disorders could be cured only by exorcism.”

Traditional treatment of psychiatric patients usually lead to human rights violations where patients are subjected to torture, like beating and chaining, said K.S.P. Janardhan Babu, Director (Programmes), M.S. Chellamuthu Trust. Mostly, people from economically weaker sections of the society rely on such quacks. So far nearly 50 faith healers in Madurai district have been sensitised through the mental health programme.

Speaking of the training, Dr. Ramasubramanian said it was an arduous task to convince the local priests to attend the training programme as they initially felt that they would be deprived of their livelihood. “With much persuasion they took part in the programme where they were made to interact with patients and overcome their false notion about mental illness,” he added.

Thanks to the programme, faith healers in several villages in the district now refer such patients to nearby clinics and helped many psychiatric patients get medical attention at the earliest. It has also considerably brought down the violence meted out to patients with mental illness.

“Earlier, I couldn’t identify the right cause for the mental illness of those who were brought to me. I used to ask their kin to perform a special puja to ward off the evil spirits. But, the training has taught me how to ascertain the causes and offer counselling to them,” said N. Kallaniah, a faith healer from a village near Usilampatti.

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Printable version | Jun 21, 2021 1:47:36 PM |

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