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Stay positive, take one step at a time
- Two-day workshop helps the mentally ill express their fears and frustrations

A young man rocks incessantly in his chair. A middle-aged man sometimes puts his leg up on the back of a chair, unable to sit still for very long. At a workshop on self-control for mentally-challenged individuals, some of the participants have travelled a long, hard road to self-improvement, and yet, are still struggling to gain acceptance and cope with circumstances.

At the two-day workshop organised by Turning Point, a support group for patients of mental illnesses and their families, to celebrate its fifth anniversary, the participants found an equal forum to express their concerns, fears, failures and frustrations to people who faced the same problems and where each understood what the other was going through.

“When he came to me for the first time years ago, he said his sister was a doctor and that he had kicked her and felt good about it,” says Ishita Sanyal of Turning Point of one young man who looks mortified. “He has changed so much since. He has got his life back, through self-control.” He later smiles and congratulates another youngster who has managed to quit smoking despite his extreme dependency on it.

While someone says that he can’t control his thoughts at times because they “run wild with worry” and therefore needs cigarettes to help him keep calm, another claims that “all the medication and anti-depressants I have to take sometimes makes my mind go completely blank and I can’t think”. A young girl has the obsessive-compulsive habit of constantly throwing water. Another boy wants to lose weight, but can’t stop overeating.

Most people have dependencies, bad habits that require self-control, patience and perseverance to get rid of, says Sanyal, but with those having some form of mental illness, the task is much tougher. Someone recounted how a friend of his had made it back to comparative normalcy through years of counselling and medication, only to be reduced to deep depression every time he smoked or drank, because one was never enough. It was, invariably, a chain reaction.

“The key is to think positive,” reiterates Sanyal to her avid audience. “Never lose faith or think too much about your failures. It’s the small changes that count. Take one step at a time and you will make it.” This kind of encouragement and positive reinforcement at Turning Point — of which Prof Amartya Sen is a patron — means a lot to sufferers, because they often feel the world is against them. “People sometimes point fingers at me and say that I can’t do anything right,” says one young man.

Another wants to know why others often respond negatively to the work he does. “At least I am trying to do something good, as opposed to corrupt police officers or politicians or cheating doctors” is his simple defence.

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