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A guide to mental mainstream

her aim is to create awareness about mental health, for which she has been diligently at it for the past decade. Ishita Sanyal has a personal reason for it — a sibling is a patient of schizophrenia.

Ishita has battled the cloud of ignorance hanging over schizophrenia for years, in her own way, not the least of which is starting Turning Point. It is a forum where people with the disease meet, discuss their problems, engage in light activity. It is, most importantly, “a place where we try to bring them back into the world”, Ishita says. “Just listening to the news is important for people who are caught up in a frightening world of their own.”

Turning Point started nine years ago, with three members. Now there are 60, and several of them are either settled with jobs or are busy with further studies. “I feel happy that they have found their way... ‘Normal’ is a relative concept, but for schizophrenia patients, even interacting with others is a huge step,” observes Ishita.

“There is a girl here who, when she first came in, wouldn’t talk to anyone. Now, through our vocational classes, not only has she taken an interest in sewing, but also makes a living from it as we sell the stuff she makes. She has found a small measure of independence and is very enthusiastic about it… Some of them still have hallucinations though, because one can never fully get rid of schizophrenia.”

The tireless campaigner is spreading her words of wisdom in schools, educating parents and teachers on children’s mental health by recognising the symptoms when something is wrong; how to distinguish between a naughty child and one who has a very real problem. With awareness as the aim, Ishita began Disha a few years ago, where they help troubled children and their parents.

Recently, at a World Fellowship for Schizophrenia and Allied Disorders conference in Tokyo, she presented a paper on her particular area of expertise — the role of siblings in the lives of the patients. “Parents are always so emotionally involved that it’s usually a case of extremes, over-protection or neglect. A brother or sister can act as an important stabiliser… For the westerners, it was a unique concept and it was gratifying to see how well my paper was received.”

Never short of inspiration, Ishita finds it from unexpected quarters. “There was a gentleman at the conference who was once a schizophrenia patient. He is now the head of the psychology department in a university, and is happily married with three children, one of whom now has the disease. He is helping his son deal with it.”

The struggle against schizophrenia has just begun. Mental illness is still viewed with suspicion here, laments Ishita. “The lack of awareness about schizophrenia is the hardest thing to handle.”

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