Last year marked a very important milestone in the field of Mental Healthcare. The Mental Health Act of 2016 was passed in August and it covered all the inadequacies of the prior Act of 1987. I never envisioned to what degree it was consequential until I started working in the mental health field. It was in August ’17 that I joined the Tata Trusts (Project Udaan). Udaan is working for the rehabilitation of the Regional Mental Hospital, Nagpur. As I started working in this mental hospital, I came face to face with the many realities. These realities are unfortunately so brutal that I wonder if these legal statements are powerful enough to make a difference. There are so many questions and insights emerging after seeing the everyday reality of these people who are different.
On a bright sunny day, we usually long for a poly chrome vision, a one which has an interesting interplay of colors but all one ever gets in this place is a monochrome one.
You may look anywhere, but you’ll end up finding the same tone.
The tone itself was a mandate to inhabit the place but, did they even have a choice?
Was it just survival? To just keep the lamp burning without adding any oil?
The wise say, don’t be afraid to be different but be afraid of being the same as everyone. Now, what really happens when one becomes different?
Well, their validation is certainly lost and the process of cleansing definitely begins – to polish and scrub until the ‘in’ is separated from the ‘sane.’ The aim was to make the different same as everyone else. Thus arose the contradiction.
The story commences with her coming into this hegemonic world. With dazzling eyes full of wonder, she took her first steps into this abyss. As she continued treading on the path that was often taken, she understood that deviating would not be tolerated. Yet, she was constantly encouraged to take the road less traveled and continuously ridiculed for being a part of the herd. The clock kept ticking and she was still under the same predicament. It was getting difficult day by day.
One fine day things happened in a way that was most unusual. There were new voices talking to her and telling her what must be done to be different since she unconsciously yearned to be so. They crept up slowly when she was alone and whispered nice yet fearful things. She knew she would stray from the path if she listened. The voices played out on her leverage points and therefore catching her off-guard almost every single time. Not able to resist the temptation, she gave in to them. These new ‘friendly’ voices sought her out every single time she relapsed to her former self. Either she was talked into getting things done her way by whatever means possible or by becoming the means herself.
She had finally deviated and those around her were stunned. So stunned that they bred hostility. With the change in their temperament, the voices got louder and louder until they became the sole entity within her. This entity became a reality for her in spite of the alternate perspective being pounded on her by the on-lookers. Torn between her kin and the powerful voices, she found herself in a place with all her inner demons, a state of pandemonium.
Judging her as maladaptive, she was taken to the single toned place. She was clueless. Without foreseeing the unavoidable separation, she ventured into the place. When she tried to get back, she was all alone and soon realized that the choice had been made for her. The voices were the only familiar entity to seek refuge in. Little did she know that the voices were not permitted here as there were all kind of potions and cures to silence them once for all. Following the procedure of the place all her colors were camouflaged by the one color that was prevalent during transit. I still don’t understand what really happens at this point. But the persona of the one in transition is in jeopardy. Once inside, the outline of her persona started blurring. Who was she before coming here? Did it matter here? Benevolence was rare but not unheard of.
Feeling lost and lonely, she tried to look for those ‘voices’ but they weren’t there anymore. They were never there. They had never been. It was then that it struck her that all of this was farce. She had understood now. Guilt crept in and she longed to make things right. Could she go back now? Not knowing what else to do, she screamed and screamed to let them know, to give them a message, to apologize, to take her back. There was no response instead the clutches of the place tightened after this. Almost suffocating her. All this while she believed she had finally managed to stand out, but now, something had snapped inside her, in this very moment, she was one among the many invisible personages forming a collective monochrome structure.
“She” just represents one among the many who have either lost or repressed all their colors to concur with the tone of the asylum. Unfortunately, there is no room to accommodate all of them. They are also looked at in a very different light which is almost very dehumanising. While each one of them is completely different, there is just one approach to treating them. Also, the stigma attached to mental healthcare is still unimaginably agonizing. This discrepancy is the root of everything and this should be very reason that we must go beyond the conventional methods. I know that we have a long way to go before we reach a state of complete acceptance but to reach there we must take the first step, which I believe has just been taken.
On an optimistic note, I would like to say in Michael Jackson’s words – “heal the world, make it a better place for you and for me and the entire human race.”
I’ll hope. I’ll believe.