True Stories:
This Book:
Story 2

‘Mental illness is curable’

success story :
the outcome of Community Service Program| SEHER

“Seher, Community Based Inclusive Services in Low Income Communities ”

Mental health Recovery stories

We are often asked whether we believe in ‘medication’ or not.

For us, that is not the fundamental issue.

People have medicines when they can afford it, and when it suits them; And people don’t have them when they are recovered or when medicines interferes with their lives.

Medicines are very much needed in the slums where we work, where, people face extreme health hazards, infections, TB, HIV, influenza, high fevers in young children, severe and pernicious anaemia, hunger, reproductive health issues, etc.

We advocate for better public health system, where mental health is integrated into the whole..

It is believed by many people, even doctors, that mental illness is ‘incurable’ and ‘life long’. Our experience shows otherwise.

Here are some stories of people who benefited from our services in Lohiyanagar and Kashewadi communities.

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Stories of

“I believe in myself”

Vimala was diagnosed as having ‘schizophrenia’ by the Yerwada mental hospital. She used to live alone when she got admitted to the mental hospital. Her brother and his family used to live in the house below, but did not support her. Her sister in law infact imposed many restrictions on her.

She had an arranged marriage. Her husband used to torture her, both physically and mentally. They wanted dowry. Her parents passed away long time back. She received no support from her 3 brothers and 1 sister or their families, in dealing with her violent husband.

She attempted suicide by setting herself on fire. She eventually left his house and has been living in Lohiyanagar for the past many years. Her condition moved from bad to worse. Her brothers dumped her in the Yerawada mental hospital.

She would be forcefully taken to the mental hospital, kept there for 4 months, bought back for few weeks and re-hospitalised. This cycle happened for the past many years. She has spent much of her time in the Mental Institution.

A lot of work was done with Vimala, her family and the neighbours. She attended groups. Our counsellors visited her very often. We negotiated with family. In the process she also learnt many new skills to live by herself.

Today, she has reached a point in life where she lives independently, works for a living, does things that interest her. She has also started offering support to other people with mental illness in the community.

Ever since she came into our services as a client, she has never been hospitalised. She has also not had many crises. She was able to turn her life back: from being behind bars to living a ‘normal’ life

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I lost many precious years, because I did not get enough to eat”!! Eshwari was referred to the organization by her neighbours. She used to rip off her clothes and run around on the streets of the wada where she lived.

Her family was very ashamed of her. She used to talk to herself, scream, and shout out abusive words without any provocation. She was addicted to tobacco and alcohol, Taddi. Her husband too was addicted to alcohol and had disowned the family

Her children did not like to address her as ‘mother’ due to her erratic and what they considered to be shameful behaviour. Two of her daughters were married off to families in Gujarat. Her son went off to work and did not care.

Eshwari had no one but herself..


The field team led by a skilled counselor, first started approaching her just to break the ice. She developed a relationship with her to start the support work.

Initially Eshwari did not speak. She used to run away. She even used foul language at times to ‘protect’ herself. Gradually with persistence and patience, she entered into our system of care.

Her neighbors were sensitized on how to support her, especially in times of crisis. They were taught psychosocial skills specifically. She was assisted to a hospital for general check up and health treatment.

It was discovered here that she suffered from severe malnourishment and anaemia. This was causing the disturbances in her. Once she received nutritional supplements and her physical condition improved, her symptoms subsided.

After she became ‘normal’, her son and family were roped in to care for her with respect to diet. They also were taught to show concern, care and affection.

Eshwari, with this new found support and other reinforcements, was able to get control back to her life. She started to do things that she loved to do; against all odds.

She soon became a grandmother and is often seen in the wada, showering affection to her grandchildren. Since she had ‘everything’, she chose not to work. This did not take all that long either, just 8 to 9 month

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    “There is dirt
    in my mind,
    cannot be cleaned!”

When we saw Chanda for the first time, she had her saree very tightly wrapped around her. She wanted to ensure that no external things or persons touch her or get touched by her. Eyes wide open with fear, she told the counselor that she wanted to die.

She was feeling so disturbed by her thoughts that she saw death as the only savior for her ‘terror’. She lost her brother to AIDS and cared for him to the end. She was gripped with fear of contracting the illness herself and then passing it to others around her.

When he died, she spend more and more time in this fear. She used to wash her hands numerous times in a day. She took a bath again and again in a day and washed her articles repeatedly. She could feel germs all around her.

She used all kinds of things to get rid of them including soap, bleaching powder, phenyl, hot water, cold water; even taking a bath in water mixed with bleaching powder and bleach. Her hands bled with the washing. Her house was flooded with water, to purify. She started putting restrictions on her family fearing they would be affected by germs.

It was extremely challenging to gain entry into her house and her world. Eventually with tremendous trials the counselors were able to ‘reach’ her. She was supported a lot through counseling: for her loss of her brother and her grief; for her fears; and for her non-stop thoughts.

She started coming out of her house, one step at a time escorted by the fieldworkers or her family. Her family support was reinforced by talking to them about her problem and educating them on helping her come out of it. They were convinced of this when they saw its effects on her in small ways.

Today, she works in a school as a helper and is the sole breadwinner of her family. She has been able to come to terms with her brother’s demise, the uncertainties of life and the possibilities for change.This whole process took about 5-6 months, not very long.

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    “So many in the family,
    but none to take care!”

Namida’s diagnosis was confusing. Whatever it was, she had frequent episodes of relapse. Her deterioration was very profound. She used to shut herself in her room, isolated herself from everybody. .

She did not attend to her small child. The child used to be crying for food, but she would not attend to his needs. There have been times when the child used to scratch on the walls and consume the ‘chuna’ when hungry. She never gave bath to her child or cleaned him when he soiled his clothes.

She never took a bath herself for days together. She soiled her clothes. She did not maintain menstrual hygiene. She refused to eat, drink or sleep. Her husband used to attend to these needs of her when available in the house.

She was so weak that one could hardly hear her voice, she never spoke a word. She had no strength in her body. She contracted Tuberculosis, had addictions and her condition further deteriorated. She did not get any support from her maternal family.

Many things were done over 2 years to assist Namida in her recovery and in empowering her in claiming her right to be cared and nourished in the family. .

Things started changing for Namida when her entire family including her maternal and marital family were confronted on their lack of support to her. The family had the resources to assist her in her treatment. But they were not able to do so due to issues related to

stigma, myths and misconceptions about the illness. There was also conflict in the family. We confronted them about this. We established opportunities for dialogue and negotiations. We referred her family back to their responsibility to care for Namida .

There have been times, when it felt that we were fighting a losing battle because slips were many.

Yet, today, inspite of all odds, Namida has been able to emerge successfully and fully recover, not just from her mental illness but also her physical illness.

She is able to take on caring roles and functions for herself, her child and her family. She continues to receive our support. In Namida’s case, our vision of providing holistic health care came fully true, as she had a complex set of health, mental health, nutritional, social, and family issues!!

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    “ Sign Karna Hai !”

Pawan, also known as ‘sign karnewala ladka’ (‘the boy who signs’) in his community. He was referred by a Ganesh Mandal Adhyaksh to the organisation. Pawan used to work as a cook in Dubai. He took on the role of the family head after his father’s demise.

He provided for all needs of his large family, with a brother and 2 sisters. On one vacation he returned and never went back. His deterioration had already started, no one is clear why and when: Did something happen in Dubai? Was he overwhelmed with the burden he had to shoulder?

No one knows.He used to sign paper after paper, magazines, newspapers, books, receipts, food packages, and any other paper he could lay his hands on. His house was filled with such paper. He stopped speaking to his family. He spent his time doing only this. His family was very sad by his condition. They could not believe what they saw.

He always kept a distance from our counselors and fieldworkers. Then slowly he started to ‘only listen, but not talk’. Then started to speak once the faces became familiar to him.

The counsellor used stories as a medium to start healing conversations with him. He started making associations of characters in the story. He inched to recovery very slowly, but surely. His family have supported him tremendously.

A huge deal of credit goes to them in accommodating his needs, at that time, with love and affection. They were not defeated by stigma and ridicule, as is usually the case for people with mental problems.

Pawan recently got married and is keeping well. He works in a well known club as a cook.

In every case, love and affection works like magic.

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    “He owns my life
    and our children’s life!”

Mumtaz lives in the basti along with her 3 small children. She was a victim of domestic violence and her husband as well as in laws tortured her a lot. She had a very low self esteem. She did not even resist his attacks on her.

She was so depressed that she always looked down. She never made any eye contact. She never smiled. She never even spoke for a long time. She was trapped in her racing thoughts, her emotional needs and the realities of her problem.

She was provided with many kinds of support from the organization, right from one to one sessions to focus on her own development, safety and empowerment; and group sessions to learn with others like her.

She was also provided livelihood opportunities to become self reliant and break away from dependence on her husband for finances.

She was taught many skills to practice at home whenever burdened by thoughts of pain, neglect and failures

The impact of this support was so much that, recently, she faced the camera for a program on national television. She shared her story of torture, restoration of life and assertion giving hope to many other ‘sisters’.

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“    I am a burden!”

Saavitra is a 45 year old woman who lives in the basti with her 17-18 year old daughter who works for a living. She has another daughter who stays in the same city and who helps her occasionally. The other daughter works as a domestic help. Saavitra lost her husband sometime back.

She had prolonged illness and the right side of her body was paralyzed. She did not even have the money for her treatment or even buying medicines prescribed in the government hospital. She was very anxious about the future of her daughter and herself.

She felt severe restriction due to her physical illness and had given away all hope of recovery. The counselor and fieldworkers supported her emotionally, as she felt a great deal of sadness for the ‘loss of a part of herself’. Her daily experiences reminded her of this loss again and again. She was counseled individually and in groups.

She was also provided monetary assistance for her medications.

She has been ‘taught’ physical exercises and massages for her body’s healing along with medication support.

Now, she does not speak about her physical pain much, and is able to hold things in her hands and do many household activities independent of others. She feels sure about herself

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    “Can step relations
    become my own?”

Gita is a 30 year old woman who was very depressed due to her family disturbances, her own brothers’ illness and challenges in a relationship. She stays in a joint family with her step mother, cousins and their families. Her own brother is severely mentally disturbed.

She has depression, fear of death, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and many physical problems like anaemia and tuberculosis. We first addressed her physical problems and referred her to a government hospital for treatment.We also simultaneously offered her

individual counseling and worked with her neighbours to harness neighborhood support. She was referred to group counseling along with this. Sensitization of her issues in her neighborhood resulted in her neighbours offering her small financial supports for daily needs and food.

She was linked to the local anganwadi and a NGO ‘Maze Ghar’ for food. Gita was able to come out of tuberculosis; there has also been an improvement in her physical condition. She has started going to work. From looking sad, depressed and dejected; She looks well and happy.She is able to talk about good things in her life.

In the beginning she used to touch feet of people who helped her; nowadays she folds her hands to thank them. She feels that there are many people around her who saved her life and gave her emotional support when she needed it the most.She shares her experiences of recovery with other people and is an inspiration to many.

“They want my money,
     not me!”

Tahira is a 50 year old woman who stays with her son and his family. She lost her husband many years back. She used to work as a caretaker for children in Dubai. Whenever she came back, for a few days, things in their house would be good as for a person who returns ‘from abroad’.

However after a few days disturbances used to slowly creep in between her and her daughter in law. Her son used to ‘side’ with his wife. She would go back feeling sad, alone and helpless. This continued for some time. When she came back to settle down with them; things moved from bad to worse.

The daily fights, disagreements and arguments were taking a toll on her physically and mentally. She was linked to small places nearby where she could work. In this way, she could spend some time away from home, remain independent and the time away could be used for working with her family.

Through these interventions many of the misunderstandings between the family and her were resolved. The family showed willingness on things that caused stress for both of them and worked on them through inputs provided to them for improving their communication patterns

and working on their mutual expectations and needs.

In Seher program, we work a lot on reducing family conflict, using helping communications, problem solving and increasing feeling of togetherness.

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    ” My own son is spoiling
    his life and mine
    with his own hands!”

Dyawar approached the organization for her physical discomforts. She used to roll bidis. Her palm and fingers were cut at several places, an occupational hazard. She could not sleep well. She had very less appetite and she felt pressure on her head.

On further probing, it was found that the real cause of her problems was the constant fights she had with her only son, an alcohol addict. She was very anxious, tense and used to be provoked even at the mention of her sons name.

She cried a lot in the initial sessions. She felt alone, hopeless and helpless. Many alternative methods of healing were used with her, as she did not understand the local languages and was not in a state of mind to talk.

Right from techniques of breathing, prayers, relaxation and drawing. Her son was inducted into a deaddiction and rehabilitation program run by Muktangan by the supporting fieldworkers through negotiations between both of them.

Groups provided her with the emotional holding she needed at that point of time by people from the same vicinity. She started feeling safe and hopeful for things to become better.

“The pain in the body can be spoken about, a dentist can pull out a tooth which aches; a fractured hand can be fixed; but what about a broken heart ??”

For Trainings in psychosocial interventions,
Kavita Pillai,
Assistant Director
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