No long-term care home in Chandigarh for adults with mental health problems

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“I am a cancer survivor and the mother of an adult with mental illness. In June 2020, my husband passed away due to cancer. I spend sleepless nights worrying about my son’s future after I am gone,” says a senior resident of the city.

Her son cannot live independently.

In a city with an ageing population, many emerging voices are demanding community (group) homes with long-term assisted living for persons with mental health issues.

Surprisingly, despite having provisions for sheltered accommodation in the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, the union territory (UT) has no such facility.

At least 70 city-based residents have written over a hundred emails and letters. Some have met the UT administrator and adviser, but have received only ‘sympathy and assurances’ in return, they say.

“We live in a soulless city,” says a 62-year-old man (name withheld) who is looking after his ailing mother and autistic son.

“He is 29 years old, but mentally he is only 14. He needs a little hand-holding. Someone has to take care of his medicines, meals, cleanliness and help with daily chores,” says the father.

Administration needs to be ‘more sensitive’

An 80-year-old man who is the only caregiver to his son with bipolar and obsessive compulsive personality disorders, recounts his attempts over the last 20 years to make the UT administration “more sensitive” to the needs of the mentally ill.

He has met three UT administrators and asked for setting up of care homes. “They sympathise but do nothing,” he rues.

Dr Sandeep Grover, professor, psychiatric department, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, stresses on the need for a group home.

The Mental Healthcare Act of 2017 has provision of half-way homes, sheltered accommodation and supported accommodation under rights of persons with mental illness, he adds.

“We need long-term stay homes for persons who have improved from mental illness or those who are not very sick but have some residual symptoms,” Dr Grover adds.

Referring to a survey he helped conduct on the need for long-term stay homes, Grover says, “A majority of psychiatrists (participating in the survey) agreed. If we look at the data, then 20% to 30% persons with severe mental illness require such facilities.”

However, the administration requires a policy on the matter, he says.

On progress made so far, Dr Simmi Waraich, Chandigarh based consultant psychiatrist, says, “We met the UT administrator on April 10, 2019, and the UT adviser the next day. Both assured us of a satisfactory solution. Then in July 2019, the adviser asked us to submit a list of potential beneficiaries of group homes and a list of over 70 caregivers was submitted to the director, social welfare, Chandigarh, but nothing has been done.”

Referring to assisted living facilities in Bengaluru, where an NGO is providing short- and long-term stay homes to persons with mental illness, Waraich adds,. “We have none in this part of the region. Chandigarh can set an example.”

In January 2019, a city based social worker with others even filed a PIL in the Punjab and Haryana high court seeking directions for UT to make a policy on group homes.

“A group home is a large house where a few persons with mental illness live together like a therapeutic community or an extended family.All that the administration has to do is provide a home (like an old-age-home) with the facility of psychosocial workers to assist the mentally challenged with their daily chores and monitor their physical and mental health,” he says.

No land available: UT adviser

Commenting on the matter, UT adviser Manoj Parida says, “In Chandigarh, we have no land. Also, it’s not that easy to plan. I have met these families, but their requirements vary. One needs at least six acres of land.”

However, Parida says plans are being made to convert a Cheshire home into a group home. “Maybe in the next two to three months we will shift handicapped persons from there,” he adds.

No plans on duration of stay have been made, he says

On suggestions of some elderly parents that the Indira Holiday Home in Sector 24 be earmarked for ‘sheltered accommodation,’ Parida says it is for the governor (UT administrator) to decide what to do with it.

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