Fredly Poyyail, 24, still remembers his first panic attack in a crowded Kasara-bound train when he was 12 years old. He went pale and found it difficult to breathe. Fortunately, he moved to Bangalore with his family soon after and the incident was forgotten.
But several years later when he returned to his home in Kalyan, Poyyail discovered that he still had panic attacks while travelling in trains. Poyyail would turn pale, break into a sweat and get breathless when on a train. He lost 20kg within a few months and soon he could not get himself to board a train.
Now, after being on medication and therapy at a day care centre for one-and-a-half-months, Poyyail, who works at a travel agency, commutes during peak hours from Kalyan to to his workplace in Kurla.
One in eight people suffer from a major mental disorder, said doctors. People living with psychological disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression or anxiety find that their life comes to a standstill - loss of job, failed relationships, loneliness and a lack of confidence. However, in the past few years, psychiatrists have been blending behaviour therapy and medication to give these patients a new lease of life.
"There were times when I had to get off the train and go to my friend's house because I could not travel any further," said Poyyail, who did yoga and music therapy at the day care.
Psychiatrists said better medicines, people's willingness to seek help and a combination of behaviour therapy and medication has helped patients. "Better medicines are available at reasonable rates. With the help of these medicines, 60% to 70% patients with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia show remarkable improvement. Some disorders require lifelong medication but others such as panic and anxiety attacks may require medical attention for a shorter duration," said Dr Nilesh Shah, head of psychiatry, Sion Hospital.
Behaviour therapy includes gradual desensitisation, where a patient is gradually made to deal with his condition. For example, a patient who can't travel by trains, would first only visit the station, then travel from one station to another with a family member and so on.
However, not every patient can resume life as it was. For example, Geeta Deshmukh (name changed), 34, could not function normally after her mother died of cancer. She was angry with her father and developed irrational fears. She would stay only with her brother. She quit work after six months, and was at home for many years. In 2006, doctors began treating her for obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia. Now, Deshmukh lives with her father and wants to go back to work. "I get tired if I step out for too long but I want to work and learn languages. But I am not sure how to go about it," said the Dadar resident.