Palliative care for people with psychiatric illnesses in India

Psychiatric disorders cause considerable burden on individuals, families and societies causing a great deal of suffering. Human, social and financial resources are needed to provide access to effective and humane treatment for people with these disorders.

Mehac Foundation, based in Kerala, delivers services rooted in the community aiming to improve the quality of lives of people suffering from psychiatric illnesses and their families. It incorporates the palliative care principles to provide compassionate care specific to mental health with community participation.

The model promotes a public health approach and focuses on well-being and stability and not only on symptom control. Mehac prioritises the poorest and the most vulnerable by planning long-term care with regular home care visits and taking care of other physical illnesses that may develop.

Mehac works by establishing local partnerships with Panchayats (local governing bodies at the village level), other NGOS, Health Services, Medical Colleges and long term care homes. The local partners own the programme with an active role in planning and implementation of the service. Since it started in 2008, Mehac provided care to nearly 2000 patients and their families.

Currently having units in four districts in Kerala, Mehac has been able to create a space for mental health at the grass roots level, demonstrate examples of public-private-NGO partnerships, take a proactive role in advocacy and awareness issues and enable preventive care, treatment and rehabilitation.

“Mental illness still remains the most stigmatised and neglected area in health care. Families are shattered and isolated,” said Chitra Venkateswaran, Mehac. “There is a person centred philosophy both in mental health and palliative care; which is compassion and aiming at little but important things that mean a lot to everyone.

“Palliative care should be inclusive to all; and there should be a change from a single minded focus on cure to a more adaptive approach in mental health care.”

This article was first published as a case study in the report: Hidden Lives, Hidden Patients, commissioned for World Hospice and Palliative Care Day 2015. The report can be found on the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance website and will be officially launched on 10 October 2015 as part of the World Hospice and Palliative Care Day celebrations. 

July 14, 2016

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