Source : google photo
Synopsis : I have thought about writing and discuss the issue of serious mental health problems that bedevil so many people in our society due to many reasons and look into the problems so many people face and how they try to cope with them.
In our neighborhood lived a family we knew quite well. They had 18 brothers and sisters so we felt quite sorry for the mother who had to bear so many children causing her poor health among other issues. Their father often came to my father for advice on what to do and how to limit his ever-growing family but I do not know what my father said to him.
The youngest was a girl of my age who was very pretty and friendly but her sister slightly older than her was no less. They were active during the festivity season of Durga Pooja and in fact the whole family participated in Pooja in one way or the other so we knew them well and visited them.
I was happy when the two daughters got married but their parents had to sell their house to pay for the marriage that involved hefty dowry for the daughters so they moved away and lived in another part of the town in a rented place. It was quite unfortunate for them to lose their nice house due to the financial problems so we saw them rarely afterwards but somehow got some news of them once in a while.
One news that really made me sad was of the elder girl who got married was mistreated by her husband and in-laws to the extent that she lost her mental balance and became insane. It was so hard for me to imagine that beautiful girl I knew to be totally insane and in a mental asylum somewhere living among other inmates. People who lose their mental balance and sent to the mental asylums are often forgotten by their families and rarely visited which makes the mental patients all the more pitiful.
The mental asylums in India are the true horror stories in a country that claims to make so much progress but not in the mental health care as far as I know. These government-run asylums are poorly managed, poorly funded and in bad conditions where the mental patients are kept like animals, some even restrained if they show the tendency of violence so everyone suffers. I still can’t imagine that pretty girl in a horrible place like that even today and feel sad. What mental and physical abuse she suffered in the hands of her husband and in-laws that made her lose her mental balance, we will never know.
There is another case that I should write about. She was a child of perhaps 12 years of age and quite lovely who used to come to our house and sit with us while we did our homework. Ma used to feed her because she often looked hungry and wore tattered clothes. We just thought that she was a poor child but nothing was wrong with her until one day we heard that she had hit her teacher with her shoes for some reason prompting the school to expel her.
It all went downhill from there. A few years later one day we saw her being restrained by several men in front of our house but she fought them like a tigress and tried to bite them. She had become insane. We never knew why. What made her change from that sweet kid to what she had become? Was she abused in her family and why would anyone abuse a child who only needed love and protection? One day she was found drowned in the river but we do not know to this day what really happened. Was it a suicide or was it a murder?
The mental health is a very serious issue that affects so many people and so many families. I know another family in our neighborhood where a very cruel fellow mistreated his daughter who had very high IQ and was brilliant so she became insane and was locked up in a room all the time. We could see her pitiful face through the window grills but could do nothing. This bad person also mistreated his wife so finally the community elders asked this fellow to leave. I still do not know what happened to that brilliant girl who was so abused and why by her own father.
Some people lose their mental acuity at a certain age called dementia that precedes Alzheimer’s disease but they are not mentally insane. They become forgetful and childlike in old age. They live with their loved ones who take care of them and always keep an eye on them. US president Ronald Reagan became like that due to the Alzheimer’s disease but he was well looked after.
The insanity is a different issue altogether. There are changes that occur in the brain but it is a gradual process and in early stages can be stopped or even reversed by giving them proper care by expert staff trained to do so. Needless to say that such care and treatment in special hospitals can be costly and can be of long duration so it is not for the poor people who have no medical insurance or other means like that girl in our neighborhood so they end up in mental asylums that are like hell.
There was a movie made in Bengali long ago on this issue where Suchitra Sen was a nurse who took care of mental patients in a hospital in the hills of Darjeeling. She fell in love with one of her patients and took great care to bring back his mental health but he one day left the hospital after full recovery and never knew that the nurse loved him.
She then lost her mental balance and became insane. Suchitra Sen’s acting was superb in that movie that made her a big star but the movie also showed a hidden curse called insanity in our society that most people avoid talking about because it is so painful.
I think that the mental health issue is related to the environment in which a person lives so cruel parents or step parents, step siblings or acute poverty can all play a role in developing mental issues in a person who is abused but I think it also depends on the person who is frail and subject to emotional stress coming from the environment where he or she lives that can trigger mental illness and can make it progressively worse.
At an early stage such illness can be helped by proper care and expert medical doctor’s advice who are trained to handle such cases. In many other cases, a genetic pre disposition to mental disorder that runs in a family can be passed on to the next generation.
I know another case where a boy born to the second wife of a person was so pampered by the parents that he lost his mental balance. He was given the best food and clothes when his siblings were not, showing extreme favor to him but in this case perhaps it had more to do with the mental state of the parents who treated the boy this way and neglected other kids. The boy was just a victim as they usually are.
In some countries , people who have such problems in their marriage or families are encouraged to receive counseling from psychiatrist who often can pinpoint the issues and advice how to deal with them so the stress that comes from marital or other related things can be solved through such counseling.
But how does one go about getting help in mental cases? Can a mentally disturbed person go to a doctor and ask for help? Can he seek counseling from a psychiatrist who charges a hefty fee for just one hour and says “your time is up. Come back next week”. Should there be a time limit on such help?
Most of the mental patients in their early stages cry out for help from anyone who would listen and give plenty of hints to those who would listen and have sympathy for their conditions. Insanity at an early stage should not be confused with a dim-witted person who can’t express himself, has no mental acuity who may also have speech problem like stuttering.
Mental health patients suffer damage to their brain either through trauma that may come after a serious injury to the head or a psychological shock that may come from a failed love like in case of that nurse in the movie of Suchitra Sen.
Sensitive people suffer more than insensitive ones because they need more love, care and understanding than the tough ones who can handle tough situations without apparent harm to their brain. A severe blow to the head like the kind the boxers suffer can lead to mental health issues like Mohamed Ali who became a vegetable and could not take care of himself. I am not sure if Ali became mentally disturbed or not but I know that he had serious health issues due to his injuries to his head.
If the parents have serious problems in raising their children properly and in giving them a nurturing environment to grow in, then often the outcome of such environment can lead to mental health issues in children like that 12-year-old child I wrote early about. Such parents need counseling but who can make them seek such help and who can pay for it? Most people who have problems do not like to admit that they have one so do not seek help.
But a child who is innocent will try to reach out to people who will or can help him. I had a roommate in California who was lonely and took drugs that I did not know about. He liked to join me for walks in the night when I talked to him about many things. Apparently no one paid any attention to him and talked to him this way so he followed me around like a puppy. The poor chap finally dropped out of college and disappeared for good but here was a case where someone could have helped him get off the drugs and get some sense into his troubled head so that he could finish his college education. I do not know if he developed mental issues later that were degenerative in nature but he was crying out for help silently in his own way and did not get it.
You hear frequently in the news that someone has killed his parents or siblings in a fit of rage and shows no remorse in doing so. Can a person be so mentally disturbed that he can take such drastic measures and not feel anything? Could it be due to mental illness? Could mental apathy and a lack of conscience be considered a precursor to mental illness later on?
We now live in a state of stress everywhere. We live in polluted, over crowded cities elbow to elbow with very little room for a free space or park or garden. People who live in apartments like pigeons in pigeon holes are stressed because living in close proximity with others can cause severe stress. Then there are job related stresses people suffer from. Others live a stressful life because of daily commute in crowded trains to their work place like in Japan.
People who constantly feel the pressure of living this way are stressed so they often act irrationally resulting in road rage accidents or even shootings. People here in the Philippines have shot dead others in a simple parking dispute or over a toothpick but such behavior is a symptom of a wider malaise, a deeper psychological problem some people have in their life.
The modern living has its downside because living under constant stress has its consequences that in some people causes detrimental changes in their brains that makes them do things they regret doing during a moment of temporary insanity but can it lead to more serious problems down the road?
I have brought up many issues here related to mental health but I do not know the answers to them in a meaningful way. What I do know is that paying attention to someone who is asking for help early on is a positive step anyone can and should take. The government should pay more attention to those who suffer mental health problems and give more resources to the hospitals and mental asylums but the government can only do so much.
A more proactive approach should always start with the family where a person can get support and help in the form of loving care and a nurturing environment. Like all diseases, mental health is a degenerative process that can be arrested if given help at the right time.
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