There was this guy, in the seventies, who walked along his huge corridor talking aloud; at times halting as if he was listening, and occasionally bursting into a laugh. Now and then, he rested and glanced around to check if he was being observed.
This went on for years, or rather till he got old and could no more continue covering the space of his huge balcony. Many termed him mad and others thought he was too smart for their time and so needed to be left alone.
Unlike this man in his verandah, there was another who walked about on the street, dressed in shorts and dirty shirt, his hair unkempt. He would talk and laugh most of the times. As a kid, one heard the words: ‘isn’t he a lucky man; a man always with a happy look?’
Memories of the two-man crisscross the mind as World Mental Health Day is celebrated today and if one looks back and forward, the situation has remained much the same despite the advancement in mental health and the study of what is a mental disorder and what is not.
Mad or being called mad then had a story of its own. To have someone mad in a family was shameful, it was a taboo. Being admitted to a mental hospital was akin to being abandoned for life by the family. For the individual concerned, it could well be the end of life.
Medicine, however, has leaped forward and the understanding of the human mind has improved radically with new medicines being discovered to the extent that seeing scenes as described above is rare.
Quite some monsoons back, few people knew how to handle people suffering from Alzheimer, Parkinson, Schizophrenia or other addictions. There is still no cure for these, but with development in research the advancement of the sickness can be slowed with prescription medicines and living with it can be better understood by creating peer groups where experiences are shared.
During one of those long-past monsoons, there was this man suffering from Alzheimer and little knowing what was wrong with him, he would get up early in the morning, open the door of his house and walk towards his village chapel.
He would sit outside on a bench till the gates were opened and as he got worse, sat outside well after the mass. When it rained he would get drenched, but when he reached home he always had a smile on his face.
This was the time when mental health did not have a day where we could celebrate it because those were the times when the problem was yet to be fully understood. There are still no cures but we are getting to a point where understanding is possible.
The Directorate of Health Services (DHS) is celebrating World Mental Health Day in North and South Goa but more than celebration, the department or particularly the Government of Goa must realise that the budget allocation for mental health must be larger.
The government today is spending pots of money to enhance treatment facilities in various faculties and yet there are few psychiatrists in Goa. To say few would be incorrect because the gap between the number of psychiatrists we have and the number we require is large.
One, the budget allocation is less and, two, the number of psychiatrists available in Goa is low and made worse because meeting a doctor is far more challenging because of societal stigma attached to mental health. Secrecy is still the word.
Yet, there are some who believe that insanity does not fit into a capsule of mental health; that it is a way of life that is financially exploited, that, it too is part of plan of the differently understood force of life.
Memories of the three men came back as the words of Kahlil Gibran echoed: “Madness is the first step towards unselfishness. Be mad and tell us what is behind the veil of ‘sanity. The purpose of life is to bring us closer to those secrets, and madness is the only means.”
On this Mental Health Day, let us appreciate that happiness begins from within – the emphasis should be on self instead of what others think of us.