October 15th: Finding routes to rehabilitation
Tanya Dutt works with AASHA, an NGO based in Chennai, India promoted and run by families of persons with mental illness. AASHA provides rehabilitation through its employment projects. Here, Tanya describes how her personal experiences as a carer for a family member living with mental illness has informed her approach to working with AASHA.
Schizophrenia has played a dominant role in my life as a care giver, to a family member with Schizophrenia, and subsequently as a volunteer at AASHA- an NGO that rehabilitates and reintegrates persons with Schizophrenia and mental health issues. I grew up in an atmosphere that was sensitised to the illness and its outcomes. Love and compassion played a primary role in dealing with the illness. There was always openness in the way we as a family dealt with the illness – there were no closed door discussions, no social exclusions and no disrespect of the individual. Living with someone who has Schizophrenia means empathy becomes an emotion through which you view life every day.
"Living with someone who has schizophrenia means empathy becomes an emotion through which you view life every day"
I carried this sensitivity into my work at AASHA, where the focus is on rehabilitation through sheltered employment. AASHA runs a 40 bedded residential rehabilitation home and four sheltered employment units in Chennai India. Residents of AASHA are placed in these centres to begin the process of rehabilitation. Many are reluctant to work and have to be motivated through incentives for the time they spend in the centres. The managing staff is instructed to be flexible over shift schedules and changes in mood and behaviour. Incentives are decided based on regularity, personal hygiene, and interpersonal relationships with other residents and staff members. Over time I noticed that the residents working in the employment centres were beginning to set goals. Self motivation was high. They want to reunite with their families, secure jobs, find a partner and enjoy social interactions. There are relapses and regressions but they are outnumbered by the happy outcomes. When a relapse occurs, there is a review and we begin the process of rehabilitation again when the time is right. I find that engagement through employment is a key factor in the return to near normalcy. It is a huge motivating factor for me to continue my work in mental health when I watch someone who is battling with mental illness striving to find a balance between the illness and dealing with the challenges of leading a life in the main stream society.