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Everyday challenges of today’s ‘leprosy’

Sadness, but vibrancy. A struggle for survival, with a smile. That’s life for a lot of people, but more so than most for those suffering from mental illnesses and their families.

Coping with daily duties and activities can be a burden at times, and reality may be a distant concept for some. But living life is important and societal acceptance is essential. All too often, that’s not the case.

Sharing “information and experiences” in town recently was Jim Crowe, president, World Fellowship for Schizophrenia and Allied Disorders, as part of a global tour to spread the word of acceptance.

In a two-day interaction with sufferers and their guardians, organised by the NGO Turning Point that helps sufferers through rehabilitation, he advised them on dealing with the illnesses and coping with the everyday challenges.

“The common concerns that came up, as usual, were, ‘how does one live with it’ and ‘why does society throw me out’,” observes Crowe.

“The root of the problem is that society underestimates what these individuals can contribute, with some help for rehabilitation. A lot of new and improved medication is now available, and the change is quite remarkable.”

Often, the illness is the focus, and not the dignity of the individual, says the Irish-New Zealander, himself affected by schizophrenia in the family, including one brother who passed away and another still living with the disease. “People are still not accepting enough of differences. Tolerance in India is very high, regarding cultural, religious and other differences, as well as minority groups. But not when it comes to mental illness.”

Living with the “new-age leprosy” and getting integrated into mainstream society were the focal points of the discussions. On the first day, at Body Care, on Park Street, elderly parents and guardians were also concerned about who would look after their children when they were unable to.

The proposition was a home, built by Turning Point, but with the combined efforts of all the parents, physical and financial, where sufferers can stay for short periods, to help recuperate and cope with the world at large.

“Families are very important in the rehabilitation process,” explains Crowe. “But they need time for themselves as well, to have a little fun. Otherwise, they, too, can end up with mental illnesses like depression. Often, though, they don’t have the means. There should be a place where patients can safely stay, under supervision.”

People often make a mockery of what they don’t understand, feels the 30-year veteran of working in the mental health sector. “Take, for example, the oft-used insult ‘schizo’, which implies someone is mad, or ‘retard’, which implies stupidity. It’s very debasing to those with either condition. Then there are films like Me, Myself and Irene and Psycho. It’s spiritual murder.”

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