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Pune cafe brings hope, respect to those who beat mental illness

South East Cafe in Koregaon Park to employee six who have recovered from the illness

pune Updated: May 16, 2019 15:37 IST
Nozia Sayyed
Nozia Sayyed
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,Pune cafe,mental illness
Rony george(left) founder director of NGO Chaitanya Mental Helath Institute interacting with staff members at the South East Cafe in Koregaon Park. (SANKET WANKHADE/HT PHOTO )

In an effort to rehabilitate people who have recovered from mental illness and overcome the stigma attached with the illness, a city-based NGO (non-governmental organisation) has employed six recovered patients at their new restaurant in Koregaon Park.

South East Café, the restaurant in Koregaon Park started by NGO Chaitanya Mental Health Institute, is managed by people who have recovered from mental illness.

Rony George, founder director of the NGO, said, “We observed that more than 50 per cent of our patients lose their jobs due to the stigma associated with the illness. Many are forced to be dependent on their families and lose their financial independence. In such cases, rehabilitation and societal acceptance play a key role in helping these patients overcome their mental illness and fear, as chances of relapse become higher due to non-acceptance. The restaurant will be officially inaugurated on Saturday.”

In order to help fight stigma related to mental illness, George decided to open a restaurant where the patients treated at his institute can find employment and be rehabilitated.

One such person who has been employed is Abhishek who hails from Andheri in Mumbai. “I came to Pune six months ago for treatment as I had suffered from a recurrence. I am now in the process of rehabilitation,” said Abhishek, who will be heading the kitchen.

Jeetu from Vashi, who has recovered from his drug addiction, will also work at the food joint. “I took to substance abuse because I suffered from emotional disturbance and depression due to my parents’ overprotective and caring nature. I wanted to be free and take my own decisions, but they always wanted to protect me. This caused me to slip into depression and later into polysubstance abuse. Now it has been more than a year that I am in Pune with Chaitanya and now want to be financially independent. Hence, I will be taking up this job.”

Jeetu, whose father is a businessman, does not want to be dependent on his family, but stand on his feet and earn a livelihood for himself. “I will be looking after the accounts of the restaurant and would like people to accept me the way I am,” he said.

Speaking about hiring both male and female patients, George said, “Employment and self-confidence along with family support during the last phase of treatment in mental illness help the patient recover soon. We will also be opening another restaurant in Deccan which will be spread across an area of 4,000 sq ft. What would be special about this place is that it will include many different stalls which will offer popular dishes from various states. These stalls along with the restaurant will be looked after by the patients going through recovery.”

AK Bakshi, president of Schizophrenia Awareness Association (SAA), said, “It is true that many patients face difficulty in getting acceptance from society and often lose their jobs. Such initiatives are necessary and should, in fact, be taken up by the government’s mental health department so that they can help rehabilitate their patients admitted with them.”

Bakshi said, “Losing jobs due to stigma and mental illness is a reality and happens because of loss of ability to work due to severity, symptoms, absenteeism due to illness, stigma and non-acceptance.”

“Sometimes companies sack such employees; many ask them to be on leave without pay and some are asked to seek early retirement. Hence, self-management and financial independence remain the only options for such people and hence rehabilitation programme should be strengthened and often remains the important part of treatment,” said Bakshi.

First Published: May 16, 2019 15:36 IST