- Amrit Kumar Bakhshy talked about his daughter’s schizophrenia and how it inspired him to help draft India’s Mental Health Act, 1987.
- The National Health Service (NHS) suggests that schizophrenia can be managed by avoiding substance use and living a healthy life.
In India, where more than 1.1 billion people reside, three in a thousand people suffer from schizophrenia, estimates a 2011 study. Though it is more common in men, women tend to experience more severe symptoms.
Former President of the Schizophrenia Awareness Association, Amrit Kumar Bakhshy, shared how he has been fighting for his daughter’s schizophrenia and why he helped draft the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017. Richa, Bakhshy’s daughter, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2001 when she was attending a boarding school in Dehradun.
“Her symptoms appeared there first. My sister-in-law was her local guardian at that time. Her husband passed away, and Richa was the first one to witness his death. That might have been the trigger,” Bakhshy said. Richa got admission to Baroda University, where she fell into bad company and started consuming substances. It triggered her mental health, and her symptoms reappeared. After knowing, Bakhshy brought her back to Mumbai, where they used to live.
She refused to seek any medical help, and her parents used to hide her medicines in her food. Her recovery comes and goes in phases during the past 30 years, says Bakhshy. “There are very few lucky ones who permanently recover from mental illnesses. Otherwise, there’s a constant shift between remission and relapse, and it’s hard to pinpoint how the latter happened,” he added.
Bakhshy shared that their relatives, friends, and neighbors stopped having contact with them due to Richa’s erratic behavior. His wife took a year-long leave from work and eventually resigned as it was impossible to leave Richa alone at home.
In 2007, Bakhshy shifted to Pune with his family for Richa’s treatment. He enrolled her in the Schizophrenia Awareness Association (SAA). Canada-based doctor Jagannath Wani was the founder of the association. Being a friend, he offered the position of president to Bakhshy.
As the president of SAA, Bakshy was involved in the responsibility of drafting changes in the Mental health Act (1987) along with the Indian Law Society, Pune. After a lot of discussions, a new bill was introduced in Parliament where Bakhshy was also invited. “The new law puts restrictions on the use of direct ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). The treatment has been strictly prohibited on minors. The law dictates that general anesthesia and muscle relaxants need to be provided before the procedure,” he said in Parliament.
Despite the new law, Bakhshy thinks that the country needs to be more active in the implementation of suitable facilities for those mentally ill.
In 2016, Bakhshy wrote one of India’s only books for caregivers “ Mental Illness and Caregiving’. He was not aware of schizophrenia when his daughter was diagnosed with it. “Over the years, I have gained a lot of knowledge and experience. I wanted to pass on this critical knowledge to other families with similar stories,” he says.
According to the NHS, schizophrenia is not completely curable but the symptoms can be managed by avoiding substance use, living a healthy life, and spending time with loved ones.