Mental hospital. The title comes packed with hackneyed associations: cue to screaming inmates bound to their beds, isolated chambers and electrotherapy machines.
Now come to the Institute of Human Behavior & Allied Sciences (IHBAS) in Shahadara in northeast Delhi and be surprised.
Inmates watch TV in large, airy halls, sit around a dining table and pass each other the vegetables at mealtimes. In the evenings they play badminton and throw ball in courts and fields.
At IBHAS, the mind knows no chains.
There was a time when the cliché rang true. IBHAS — established in 1966 — housed images to rival any Hindi film's of a “mental hospital.”
Ruins of dark, clammy wards still hunch around the campus as a horrific reminder of the way in which mentally ill patients were once treated, chained in their rooms.
Today, doctors at IBHAS are guides rather than jail wardens to their patients. Poonam Chakravarty (18) is living proof of that.
Failing her Class XI exam in December 2009 was the trigger for Chakravarty to slide into an acute depression. In January 2010, she hit her nadir: slashing her wrists in an attempt to kill herself.
Fortunately, Chakravarty survived. Her parents broke into the locked bathroom where she had put a razor to her wrists and rushed her to IBHAS.
A month later, she sits on her hospital bed, chatting cheerfully with her parents. “I am looking forward to going home,” she says with a shy smile.
While her parents thank the doctors, doctors say it is to her parents' credit that she has made a speedy recovery.
“We can't really provide the kind of care, like a family member would,” says Dr Krishna Vaddiparti, (34) assistant professor of psychiatric social work.
What Dr Vaddiparti doesn't say in as many words is that not every facility for psychiatric care allows the patient's family to be part of the treatment process. At IBHAS, each patient is provided an additional bed for one relative, to ensure constant proximity.
“It is not about the facility, it is about dignity,” says Dr Nimesh Desai, (54) medical superintendent, IHBAS.
“Why should we make someone from the family sleep on the floor or share the bed with the patient when we can offer another bed?”
High rate of rehabilitation
The Delhi government's biggest psychiatric care hospital receives one to two cases referred by courts each day.
“Court-referred patients are usually suicidal, homicidal or under acute depression,” says Dr Jahanara Gajendragad, (40) head, psychiatric social work. “These are patients usually shunned by their families.”
In such cases, says Dr Gajendragad, not only do they counsel the patient, but also sensitize the family.
“Our biggest strength is that we have a 98 per cent rehabilitation rate, where patients get treated to go home and live without supervision,” she says.
The 98 per cent rate was not achieved overnight.
“This big change (in the institute's treatment methods) came in 1993 after a Supreme Court order, but the television and dining sets are new additions,” says Dr Desai.
The biggest challenge doctors face now, says Dr Desai, is changing public perception about what are generally known as “mental illnesses.” “Psychiatric disorders are still considered a social stigma. I am glad the mindset is slowly changing,” says the doctor, who regularly takes out his patients on picnics and trips.
The hospital’s neurology wing is all set to get its own stroke Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in six months.
“The wing, which received 1,000 patients in 1995, got up to 1.10 lakh patients in 2008. People’s confidence in our facilities has grown,” says Dr V.N. Mishra (38), assistant professor, neurology.
Tomorrow: Interview with Health Minister Dr Kiran Walia