IN COLD CITY, SUPPORT SYSTEMS FAILING THEM
Say the word ‘homeless’ and the image that crops up is of an impoverished and unemployed person. But experts at a national seminar observed on Saturday that mentally ill people, even those from affluent families, are as likely to be homeless. Delhi itself has over one lakh mentally ill people living on the streets and the number across the country is only rising.
Nimesh Desai, director of Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Science, joint organiser of the seminar on homelessness, pointed out that homelessness among the mentally ill is growing significantly and is a major concern that needs to be addressed quickly.
The two-day seminar was organised at India International Centre by IHBAS along with the National Legal Services Authority, Delhi State Legal Services Authority, Indian Psychiatric Society and the State Mental Health Authority.
Citing case studies, doctors, psychiatrists and bureaucrats said that homeless people suffer poor nutrition, substance abuse and higher exposure to violence like robberies and beatings.
Justice A K Sikri, who was also in attendance, added, “It is no longer just a health issue now. It is an issue of their human rights. The homeless have the right to live like any other person but are not getting an environment suitable for their life.”
Justice Sikri’s comments came two days after a Supreme Court bench observed that chaining people suffering from mental illness was violative of their rights under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain felt that modern lifestyles were leading to mental setbacks. “The major issue in the growth of mental disorder is greed and that is the area where we need to work on,” Jain said. He also attributed the increase in psychological problems to people spending an inordinate amount of their time on social medial instead of interacting with each other in person.
The speakers emphasised that the homeless in cities not only lost their identity, but also community support, living in a state of anonymity. Though the homeless contributed to the unorganised labour economy, society was loath to accept them and many of the homeless are even disconnected from their families. One official said that once the elders in a family — from all classes of society — transferred the property to their children, they were often thrown out of the house. Forced to live on the streets, they frequently end up as mental wrecks.
Not surprisingly, a fifth of the homeless are estimated to be suffering from severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia.
Many have a history of prior hospitalisation for psychiatrist conditions, often coupled with one or more physical problems, psychiatrists said.
According to a survey, mental health contributes to 8% of the global burden of disease, and over 15% of adults in developing countries are believed to suffer from mental illness.
This perpetuates a vicious cycle in which the stress of homelessness.
It is no longer just a health issue now. It is an issue of their human rights. The homeless have the right to live like any other person but are not getting an environment suitable for their life
JUSTICE A K SIKRI
Supreme Court judge