I pursued Masters in Social Work between the years 2007 and 2009 at Bangalore. My specialisation was Medical and Psychiatric Social Work. I interned in the field of physical and mental health. I had interned with organisations working in the field of disability, oncology, psychiatry, and neurology. I was exposed to the field of mental health through seminar, conferences and research studies.
I had also taken voluntary trips to different villages in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh to explore issues of community health and socio-economic situations of those places.
I got to learn a lot during my internships, field visits, and thesis. I learned that there was less awareness about health rights, welfare policies and also about different diseases affecting communities. The importance of health was largely underestimated. For instance, the people working in the match-and-cracker factories at Sivakasi had skin problems, were affected by respiratory diseases etc. but they did not regard it as an unusual phenomenon.
Likewise, the people were unaware of neurological disorders caused due to genetic dispositions and dietary issues. They were also unaware of the fact that chronic exposure to toxic environments caused neurological diseases in people and their offspring for generations. For Instance, people working in the Kolar district gold mines had a high amount of lead in their systems. The prevalence of neurological diseases in these communities was a lot more than other communities who did not work in factories, mines or quarries. These neurological disorders can be treated with consistency in medication and physiotherapy.
There are hardly any awareness programs constructed on these issues.
I also learned that the prevalence of the above-mentioned diseases in the rural areas and urban slums increased constantly. The health of patients in these places deteriorated by the day as well. This was because of the caregivers’ negligence. The caregivers were also not given proper guidance on how to deal with patients in their families. They did not understand the importance of continuous medication and dietary patterns. They did not know how to read the symptoms and call for help at the right time. They did not know how to treat patients with neurological illnesses.
The community-based programs I conducted involved arranging for awareness talks on disability, AIDS, psychiatry, neurology, and addiction management. The community awareness programs predominantly focused on these aspects:
- explaining the importance of mental health
- explaining the communities on how to demarcate mental illness from physical illness
- encouraging them to openly discuss the prevalence of neurological and mental illnesses in communities
- sensitizing them about the symptoms and causes of these illnesses
- discussing the existing stigma, misconceptions, and superstition with regard to these illnesses and arriving at ideas on how to eradicate them
- inducing acceptance within families and communities
- the importance of social support systems as a crucial factor in the recovery of patients
It is high time we give focused importance on public health in India. The scope of research in public health is immense. The policies on public health have to be amended. Mental health issues in urban and rural communities have to be explored deeply.
Research on how to form effective ways of communication through advocacy has to be done. Training and capacity building programs for communities have to be executed. Community leaders have to be identified and trained.
Neurological illnesses are prevalent in many communities. Lack of social support systems impedes the pathway to care. Public health interventions are most necessary to deal with such illnesses.