Imagine a banyan tree in the middle of a village. After a long day of manual labour, several women are resting under the tree, sharing the events of the day with one another. Such a scene is quite typical in many rural areas of Tamil Nadu. In the midst of their conversation, the women notice a drunken man approach them. His legs are unsteady, and they could smell alcohol in his breath from several feet away. As he passes by the tree, he mumbles a few incoherent words in their direction and walks on.
The women recognise him. He lives in the same village with his wife and three children. He has no job, and spends all his time drinking. The government’s MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Mental Health Scheme) policy guarantees employment for one member of the family, and his wife has taken it up – the alcoholic husband is unemployable. She is also left with the burden of raising their children, and managing all household chores by herself, while being mentally and physically abused by the ever-inebriated husband. Such a level of stress will inevitably lead to the wife developing symptoms of mental illness, leading to extreme levels of depression.
This hypothetical situation is not uncommon in rural India. In a recent mental illness awareness workshop conducted by The Banyan, the organisers described the situation to several women from the village of Kottamedu. The Banyan staff asked the ladies how they would react to the husband walking by, and what they could do to help neighbours in mental distress.
This dialogue is just one of the workshops conducted by The Banyan as part of its rural outreach project. Several field workers travel to rural Panchayats to meet with local community women. Two such events have taken place in Kottamedu involving around 100 women.
The first workshop covered the basics of mental illnesses. The staff asked volunteers to enact skits such as the one described above. Several discussions followed, where staff taught participants how to identify mental illnesses. After the event, several participants came forward and confessed that they themselves or several of their friends had experienced mental illness symptoms in the past, leaving the staff with a greater sense of accomplishment.
The Banyan staff organised a second workshop a month later, where they conducted surveys to gauge interest among the community women in undergoing further training to help the mentally ill in their village. The results showed a significant interest!
Mental illness problems in rural areas go unnoticed and undiagnosed because family and community members do not know how to spot the symptoms, and those affected have no clue that their condition can improve with proper care. We hope that appropriate care and access to treatment can be given to those in need by training people in the community to recognise the symptoms of mental health and call for help.
Please help The Banyan to continue to help members of rural communities understand the symptoms of mental health and help those suffering from mental ailments.
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