India: Let Us make 2017 Year to “Own-Up, Open-Up and Talk Mental Illness”

Friends in earlier two blogs in “Of Madness and Sadness” series in akhilvaani,  I exhorted upon you to Own-Up, Open-Up and Talk Mental Illness” (yes Mental Illness of yours or your nears and dear ones) in the broader context of  celebrating 2017, as the big audacious Year of “Hope, Love and Pride” for Mentally Ill in India. You might be wondering, “I should or should not”. Yes it is existential question to be asked but think this way, if you do not, open-up and talk, how will Stigma against Mental Illness start receding bit by bit. As you know drops of water make a pond first, river then and finally turn into ocean.

India 2017 is our year  to say no to Stigma and Discrimination and to Talk Mental Illness. As a starter, World Health Organization (WHO) knowing that Depression by 2020 will be second largest killer after cardiac related deaths, has taken a bold step. To observe this year World Health Day (7th April) it self with the theme – Depression: Let us talk.

So my dear fellow country men, are you ready to talk Mental Illness, or still debating the question- “should I or should not I” here is a glimpse of why you should

Let me introduce to you some-brave heart Indians (yes ordinary mortals like you and me, not celebrities) who have openly talked about their Mental Illness . They are not celebrities like Deepika Padukone and Yo Yo Honey Singh, they are people like you and me. Here is the first list of  sufferers of Mental Illness of India who have gone public about their suffering-

  1.  Vaishnavi Jaikumar based in Chennai, is co-Founder of Banyan, the mother of all NGOs working in the field of Mentally ill in India. Vaishnavi had public admission of her long fight with mental illness in Zingagi Live TV Show on IBN 7 in 2010
  2. Sandeep Gautam, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi and Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Kolkata Alumni (visit him @sandygautam on twitter) who recently made confession on 31st December 2016 through his blog about his suffering from Bipolar Disorder
  3.  Reshma Valliapan, a Pune based young artist, having suffered Schizophrenia, there is an award wining documentary movie “A Drop of Sunshine” based on her recovery and living with Schizophrenia arguably without medication. She has also authored her autobiography  “Fallen, Standing: My Life as a Schizophrenist”
  4. Shubhrata Prakash-a bright alumni of St. Stephens college, and a Member of prestigious Indian Revenue Service (I.R.S.), presently Additional Commissioner of Income Tax, has long suffered from Depression and has followed the policy of Glasnost about it. Her latest book – “The D-Word, A Survivors Guide to Depression is making rave review in Delhi World Book Fair currently.
  5. PRATEEKSHA SHARMA, based out of Nation Capital Region (also known as Hansadwani Prateeksha) has long suffered with Bipolar Disorder, she is the Founder of Hansadwani Foundation) and uses music to nurture the self and mind
  6. Dr. Layanya Seshasyee, Bangalore based PhD who has achieved what she has achieved despite her long suffering with Schizophrenia. She is a mental health crusader in her own right and her  story can be read at https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2015/06/personal-story-of-living-with-schizophrenia/
  7. Gayaththri Ramprasad-Bangalore born and US based Gayathri Ramprasad had a long brush with depression including (ante-natal and post-partum) and went through living hell herself for long years. Gayathri in 2016 decided to spread the hope and love for Mentally Ill and has touched more than 30000 lives through Asha International. Gayathri is also the author of book on her life- “Shadows in the Sun -Healing from Depression and Finding the Light Within
  8. Jhilmil Breckenridge , Delhi based Jhilmil was once diagnosed suffering from Bipolar disorder and like Gayathri Ramprasad was hospitalized in a Mental Hospital believes she was wrongly diagnosed so and she considers herself as a “User- Survivor of Psychiatry”.She is a writer, poet and activist who speaks out about mental illness, stigma and inclusion. Through Bhor Foundation founded by her she is engaged in taking  poetry into asylums as a healing tool.
  9. Sulabha Subramanium: Mumbai based Sulabha herself is a Mental Health Professional working with institute of Psychological Health in Thane Mumbai, has had her own tryst with suffering from Mental Illness. Her story can be read at “You can Recover” project of Asha International run by Gayathri Prasad
  10. Akhileshwar Sahay– is a India based management consultant, change agent, ethics counselor, writer and speaker,  follows glasnost about his long suffering with Bipolar Disorder. His life has been extensively covered by News Papers and Television Channels (including cover page story in Mint – “Akhileshwar Sahay: : Life Learning from one Man Fight with Bipolar Disorder, Zindagi Live on Hindi TV Channel IBN 7, Living it Up on CNN IBN among others). He is Principal Instigation of Whole Mind India Foundation (a Face Book Group with 7000 persons), WMIF-because we care for your Mental Health (a Face book page with 16500 persons) and Group for Suicide Prevention in India (GSPI) on Facebook with 2000 persons. He was also a member of Government of India Mental Health Policy Group

The above list will be added with many more names, as this blog site is populated with more and more disclosures in times to come. I already have surprise list of ten more brave hearts but more about them in the next blog.

Admitted you do not suffer from Mental Illness. But some one close in family or friends does. How do you feel-to disclose or not. Yes disclosing the story as a care giver is tricky and does have privacy issues. So this part need to be handled with care.

Now let me introduce you to some care givers, par excellence. They are already in public domain and i have assumed their consent or have already taken the consent

One who not suffer from mental illness or his near and dear ones have not suffered, seldom realizes, how difficult is the life of care-givers. Often a care-giver in the evening of his/her life asks a difficult question- “Who will take care of his/her Mentally Ill son/daughter/spouse”.

Sad story of India is neither I, nor government nor society has answer to this traumatic question. It is my assertion here that most of the life, curse of being a caregiver of a sufferer of Mental Illness is as bad if not worse that the travesty of the life of sufferers of Mental Illness itself.

So. in this year of “Hope, Love and Pride” for Mentally ill in India, it is also time to honor some dedicated soul who have not only proved to be care-giver par excellence but have also become the torch bearer of Mental Health movement in India-

  1. Jagganath Wani  an Indian born naturalized Canadian citizen and  Professor Emeritus  of Statistics and Actuarial Science at Calgary was probably the first Indian to go public three decades ago about the traumatic suffering of his wife from Schizophrenia. when a Canadian psychiatrist offered him the simple solution of “divorcing” his wife he took to the more difficult task of caring not only for his wife but also decided to spread love and hope for Mentally Ill across different parts of the world including Canada and India.  His story has been chronicled by Dr. Wani in his memoir (2011)  “Triumph and Tragedies. He has been honored with Highest Civilian Award of Canada for his life time achievements. Mr. Wani is also accredited as founder of Pune Based Schizophrenia Awareness Association (SAA) that has completed ten years of exceptional care-giving service to sufferers from Schizophrenia and other serious Mental Illnesses.
  2. Mukul Chandhra Goswami, caregiver of his sister suffering from acute Schizophrenia  took the cause of tending to the care of Mentally ill to his heart and he has turned out to be beacon of hope for destitute, homeless and poor suffering from Mental Illness in Assam and other parts of North East. For his self-less services, Mukul has been conferred with honored Padma Shree by President of India.
  3. Vandana Gopikumar and Vaishnavi Jaikumar: In India where there is hardly worth mentioning care-giving facility for Mentally ill outside home, it is natural for parents, siblings and spouse to turn care-givers. This is not a surprise. But what these two young friends did in their twenties when they spotted a  without cloth mentally ill lady at Chennai road was unthinkable, they brought her home, gave her bath, clothed her and started what is known as the biggest care-giving institution in India that too of destitute mentally ill women and men found on Chennai street.They have proved to be self-less caregiver of more than 10000 destitute mentally ill in last two and half decades. Banyan the care-giver umbrella they founded has inspired coming up of similar care giving institutions across India. Suffices to say, the service orientation of Vandana and Vaishnavi has no peer in India
  4. Amrit Bakhshay: A banker by profession, Mr. Bakshay started his professional career as Probationary officer with State Bank of India and also occupied the chair of head of Indian Banks Association (IBA). His life was overturned in 1990s with a call from a girls boarding school in Dehradun about sudden deterioration in the Mental Health of his teenage daughter Richa, who was finally diagnosed suffering from Schizophrenia. With this started the elusive search for the cure amid darkness and stigma where a situation came when Mr. Bakshay’s own mother decided to leave his house but he and his wife resolutely faced the situation. Finally to help Richa recuperate Bakhshays shifted to Pune and in Schizophrenia Awareness Association Richa found her healing place and Mr. Bakshay found his true calling. Today Richa is a well adjusted Subharti (this is how SAA describes Mentally ill) and Amrit ji is anchor of SAA as President of Schizophrenia Awareness Association. Recent book by Amrit ji,  Mental Illness and Care-giving:Challenges, Concerns and Complications should be concerned as treatise by every caregiver of Mentally ill
  5. Ratna Chhiber and Tanya Dutt: Ratna ji and young Tanya from Chennai a unique mother-daughter combination of willing care-givers who taking leaf from their own person struggle of being a caregiver have taken to the cause of making life better, livable and functional for other poor mentally ill suffering for long. Unique path that Ratna  ji chose is not normally encountered in India. A day of reckoning came in her life early, when she was given a hobsons choice-either to be caregiver of her brother suffering from Schizophrenia or to continue with her matrimony. Ratna ji with her head high chose the former. Young brave Tanya went a step further, the chose to marry knowingly to a person, with full knowledge that her sister-in-law (husband’s sister”) suffers from Mental Illness. Moving beyond their own life as care-givers in personal capacity, today they run an unique experiment in Chennai of running many convenience stores, which are run exclusively by sufferers of Mental Illness in recovery mode.

My half an hour blogging time comes to an end now. But the flame within burns 24X7.

So over to you friends. In next episode of “Of Madness and Sadness” at Akhilvaani I will return with more food for thought and more reason to make 2017 as year of “Hope, Love and Pride for Mentally Ill”.

Till then, Talk India Talk. Let us own-up, open-up and talk mental illness.

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