“At a time when even small children are victims of horrific crimes, how can I leave my only daughter alone once I am gone?” asks N Kamalasanan, a retired educationist. That’s perhaps why Kamalasanan, now 77 and the anguished father of a Schizophrenic daughter, has decided to donate his ancestral property to the Kerala government in order to establish a care home for female mental health patients.
Worth Rs 3 crores, the 0.84-acre property, located in Veliyam town in Kollam district, was officially handed over to the government on Friday, to be turned into an institution for treatment of female mental health patients. The four-bedroom fully-furnished property can house up to 10 people comfortably. Though built in 1995 on land bequeathed to him, Kamalasanan has never lived in this house for extended periods of time, due to which he has decided to make better use of the property.
“I never thought of the opportunity cost because I certainly am not going to take this wealth with me when I die. My wife and I receive monthly pension, which provides us with enough to live comfortably,” he says.
Kamalasanan’s daughter Priya, now 38, was first diagnosed with Schizophrenia when she was 13. After being diagnosed with the condition, she was forced to quit school and remain at home under constant care. Despite travelling far and wide with his daughter, he could not find any permanent solution till now. “While doctors keep giving false promises of curing her of it frequently, the truth is that 99 percent of Schizophrenia patients are never permanently cured; but I have faith. I will not stop looking for a cure for my daughter because I am banking on the fact that one percent of the patients have been cured of it,” he said. Kamalasanan is the secretary of ‘Saanthwanam’, a care home which gives skill development training to mentally-ill people in Kozhikode.
A recent study conducted by the Kerala State Mental Health Authority and National Health Mission showed that 11.36% of the population are affected by mental illnesses in the state. These illnesses include depression, Schizophrenia as well as tobacco and alcohol-induced mental disorders. Out of this, an estimated 1% of Kerala’s total population reportedly suffers from Schizophrenia – an illness that has no permanent cure and can only be treated through lifelong medication.
Kerala has a dearth of rehabilitative centers for mentally-ill patients, which poses several problems for those who cannot afford private-care facilities.
“The thing about people with mental illnesses like Schizophrenia is that they cannot carry on with daily life normally unless they take appropriate medicines every day. These medicines make them feel better until the next dosage; so it is a cyclic process,” says Kamalasanan.
Due to this, patients who are otherwise physically healthy often have to count on others for such assistance, and may not be able to lead an independent life. In cases like that of Priya, both her parents are aged with no one to care for her. “At least we do not have financial problems. But in case of several families, people do not have the means to access or afford care homes, because of which mentally ill patients become destitute,” Kamalasanan observes.
Kamalasanan first sent a letter to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on November 8, 2016, offering to give the property free of cost to the government for the construction of a mental care institution. The Department of Social Justice took up the matter early this year and finished the required formalities for handing over of the property. However, Kamalasanan put forward three conditions: 1) the institution be named after his daughter, 2) the home would provide housing facilities for his daughter after a specified date and, 3) a committee consisting of the local panchayat president, ward member and representative chosen by Kamalasanan would be a part of the administrative council of the institution.
The newly-established home will require at least one nurse, one nursing assistant and a doctor on call, all of whom will be recruited by the government. Since all patients require regular distribution of medication along with care and attention, the home will need to be well-staffed.