Eleven women have died over the past two months at Asha Kiran, a shelter for women with mental health disorders, said Delhi Commission for Women chairperson Swati Maliwal. The shocking revelations by Maliwal, after inspecting the women’s shelter in Rohini, have thrown up several questions about the quality of life led by mentally challenged women and children at the home.
The shelter, which has a sanctioned strength of 350, is mostly overcrowded with the head count going up to as high as 900 at times. “The number of women living in the home is often three times the capacity. The reason is that there are not enough facilities like this in Delhi,” said Dr Nimesh Desai, director, Institute of Human and Behavioural Sciences (IHBAS), a mental health hospital run by the Delhi government.
However, Desai also pointed out that the government has recently started two other similar facilities in the city bringing down the number of residents in Asha Kiran. “Yet these deaths happened. Why?” asked Dr Desai.
Doctors say that in the face of rising mortality at the shelter, the first thing is to ascertain the cause of deaths. “A regular health check-up might help as people with mental disability are sometimes not able to communicate about their physical problems. Also, the centre needs to examine if there is neglect, such as in personal hygiene, missed meals or medicines, all areas that staff should assist the residents with,” said Dr Sameer Malhotra, director of mental health and behavioural sciences at Delhi’s Max Hospitals.
Malhotra said that another factor that needs to be looked into is the poor quality of care provided by the staff . “The government needs to improve the attitude of the staff. People living in these homes may not be able to communicate very well if they are feeling cold or are in pain. The staff has to sensitive to these things,” he said.
Dr Desai explained that a three-tier system has been put in place to improve the health condition of the inmates. “The medical and mental health team at the home has been strengthened, if they require hospitalisation they can be referred to nearby Ambedkar hospital and if they need specialised care they can be sent to GB Pant or IHBAS. Even after such steps if the mortality is high it is shocking,” said Dr Desai. He also added that the death rate in homes for people with mental disorders is on the higher side because of their weakened immune system, self neglect and social and institutional neglect. However, he added that this issue must be addressed.
People with disabilities need a lot of emotional support from the workers at the shelter, their family members or even from NGOs. “It is very important to maintain their dignity and keep them gainfully employed in doing some activities to expend their energy,” Dr Malhotra said.