Mental health awareness programmes and interventions have helped reduce some of the stigma associated with mental illness, said the chief executive of a 50-year-old psychiatric hospital.
Speaking at the golden jubilee of Antara, the psychiatric hospital and rehabilitation centre in South 24-Parganas’s Baruipur, M. Thomas John described how things have improved over the years. “Antara has been able to remove the stigma associated with mental illness to a great extent. Now, people happily approach Antara for counselling, consultation and treatment,” he said.
Antara has helped people access counselling and treatment.
John told The Telegraph after the virtual programme on Sunday that in the early years of the facility, individuals would come with bruises all over their body, sometimes after being subjected to exorcism. “But now, people seek mental health services early and it is a sign that there is more awareness. The fear and stigma associated with going to a mental hospital has been largely removed. There is willingness to seek treatment and the hesitation is much less than before.”
A non-government, voluntary, charitable society, Antara operates a 200-bed hospital and has been conducting school and community mental health programmes and campaigning for the treatment and rehabilitation of persons suffering from mental illness and addiction.
Friends and well-wishers of the hospital joined Sunday’s virtual programme from across the world.
During the pandemic, there has been an increase in the number of cases, hospital officials said. “While the pandemic has accelerated the growth of mental illness, it has also led to more open acknowledgement of mental health and illness,” said Kamal Prakash, the president of Antara, at the programme.
Hospital officials said they expected more patients once train services are regularised. A large section comes to Antara from areas dependent on trains. “Usually, on an average, 2025 new patients and 100-150 follow-up patients attend Antara hospital’s OPD every day. But on Saturday, (September 4), the number of new patients that attended the OPD was 41 and follow-up cases was 224. This shows the increasing need and demand for mental healthcare services,” said John.
Antara has also created isolation wards and treated 98 patients with mental illness who were Covid positive.
“In severe psychiatric crises, patients behave differently. For example, they might refuse to wear masks, and we have to treat them accordingly. The state health department told us that if a patient gets severe (Covid) we have to shift them otherwise we should treat them and we successfully did that,” said John.