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Times of India
02 July 2010
Chennai, India

Institute Of Mental Health To Be Made Autonomous
The state health department will convert the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), Kilpauk, the only mental health hospital in the state, into an autonomous institute before August 15. The move is aimed at changing the prison-like IMH into a place with a more humane approach towards the mentally ill, with better treatment facilities as in the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore.

Health secretary VK Subburaj on Thursday said the government, which is working on setting up another such hospital in Madurai, would soon issue an order in this regard. At present, the hospital functions under the health and family welfare department of the state government and follows prison rules. The patients are referred to as inmates and care takers are called warders.

Like in the prison, roll call is made at dawn and dusk. The "inmates" are "released" from their wards at dawn for breakfast, sent back to the wards, and kept locked after sunset. Dinner is served before sunset and no visitors are allowed after 6 pm.

"Mental illness is a serious challenge to public health because of lack of doctors. It is estimated that 10% have some form of mental illness and 1% have serious mental illness. This means Tamil Nadu has at least six lakh people suffering from some form of mental illness. We have just about 350 psychiatrists in the state. This means an acute shortage of specialists and low access to care," said Subburaj. He was speaking at the inauguration of a three-day seminar on Perspective of Mental Illness in India organised by the Banyan Academy for Leadership in Mental Health which state IT minister Poongodai Aladi Aruna inaugurated earlier.

While the state government has been attempting to increase the number of postgraduate medical seats to produce more psychiatrists, the district mental health programme has been attempting to make mental care care more accessible, he said. "For several years, IMH has been the only mental health hospital in the state. This has also been a burden on the institute. We are also planning another hospital in Madurai," he said.

IMH director Dr R Sathianathan said that the autonomy would help the institute frame its own rules and make it more patient-friendly. "We intend to have family units, where the patient’s family can stay at the hospital during therapy. This not only allows them to watch how we treat and care for the mentally ill but also removes stigma to a great extent," he said. Besides keeping the hospital open and transparent, autonomy will help the hospital conduct research and academic programmes, besides improving service without red-tape, he said.

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