a year ago

Fighting mental illness

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The issue of mental health problems in the country is coming up for discussion quite often. One such parley marking the publication of the World Mental Health Report in Dhaka on December 28 has recently put the number of people afflicted with various types of mental diseases at 30 million. This is alarmingly high. The gloomy picture that emerged at the event is nothing extraordinary. Following the past tradition, the country's mental health scene is the same old tale of dubbing a large segment of people 'mad-caps'. Apart from being uncared for and deliberately avoided, they are also considered a social drag. They may not realise the discrimination they are subject to in their areas or outside, but this is plain reality. What adds to their plight is the mentally ill people's silent but wide-scale persecution --- which is normally overlooked by the saner segments. In fact, they are helpless in their self-spun cocoons. Society in general and the activists have a role to bring them out of their dark abysses. Woefully, they cannot come free of their garb of nonchalance.

Approximately, 18.4 per cent of the adults or 30 million people in Bangladesh are suffering from various forms of mental illness. Of the mentally sick people, 13 per cent are adolescents. Statistics do indicate the gravity of the situation, but remedial measures have been few and far between. In developed countries the mentally ill people receive all necessary medical treatment without asking from the state. There is no dearth of psychological or emotional support at mental asylums or hospitals. These specialised hospitals or homes in the high-income countries continue to rise in parallel with the rise in incidence of violence caused by schizophrenic teenagers or young adults. Compared with them, Bangladesh mental patients are benign and merely emotionally overcharged or drained. They do not need highly expensive medical care to get cured. Most of the sordid or violent cases occurring in this country are related to family affairs like conjugal spats or non-adaptability. At extreme stages, they at best commit suicide, which is highly condemnable. But suicides are not considered a grave offence.

Of the many reasons, extreme poverty comes up as a distinctive one leading people to derangement. The cases of complicated diseases like suppression of psycho-somatic conditions for long are rare in Bangladesh. The skulking psychopaths are also very few in numbers, even in the cities. Still the overseas influences of the morbid types of mental illnesses continue to trickle in. The social guardians ought to keep their eyes open to arrest these influences. At the same time, the government should set up state-of-the-art mental hospitals at the district and divisional levels.

The inadequate budgetary allocation and scant human resources have been impeding the proper treatment of the mental patients. In the large cities, including Dhaka, there are facilities of public and private hospitals, as well as expensive clinics; the dearth of fully specialised hospitals still plagues the mental health sector though. The policymakers ought to keep in mind that mental illness is not confined to any particular area --- cities or villages.

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