Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Exploring madness

Recently I saw the "Exploring Madness", a series of short films by Dr. Parvez Imam. He is a doctor and a documentary film maker. The films are very brief, each lasting 3-4 minutes only.

The one I liked most was where he tells about women who are brought to a mental health hospital and left there by the family. Often, the families give a wrong address to the hospital, so that they can not be traced. After a few months, when the women are cured or are better, they want to go back to their homes, but the law does not allow persons treated for mental health problems to go out alone. Their only way to go out of the hospital is if some family member comes to accompany them. For many of them, no one ever comes to take them back so they are doomed to wait in the mental hospitals for ever. It was heart rending in the film to listen to the women who kept on saying, she had two children and she wanted to go back to her family.

I appreciated that the film respects the privacy of persons it interviews. And I liked the briefness of films. Even in their briefness, they make a clear point and touch the heart. I think that it requires a deep understanding of the theme and a strong empathy, to come up with something like this.

In the film, a lawyer tells about the Indian laws relating to mental illness. In India, if you are declared mentally ill, you lose all your civil rights, including the right to vote or to marry. For the law, it is justifiable reason for asking for a divorce. So like those women doomed to eternal wait for the families to come back and take them, there are many other areas of human rights violations of persons with mental health problems.

However, you can be cured of mental illness. Often mental illnesses are cyclical in nature, so there are periods when you are better. Doesn't the law allow you to regain your civil rights once the doctor treating you has certified that you are better? That sounds very cruel and unfair!

While watching the film I remembered some episodes from a period of life, that I had almost forgotten. It was the time when I was a PG student in anaesthesia at Willingdon hospital (or the Dr Ram Manohar Lohia hospital) in Delhi. Some times there were calls from the mental health unit accross the Tal Katora road and sometimes, I did go there to provide anaesthesia for persons receiving electric shocks (ECT). As shocks also produce convulsions in the body, through anaesthesia, you can relax the muscles so that they don't get hurt or pains afterwards.

I was thinking that in those days, I had never stopped on the way to look around in the mental health unit. It was only rushing to the ECT room and back. Perhaps, just the sight of ECT scared me so much that I didn't want to think about it?

At that time, I did not know that many organisations of "survivors of psychiatric services" are fighting against ECT, they feel that it is inhuman treatment and not useful. However, the textbooks of medicines continue to teach students about usefulness of ECT in certain conditions.

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