I pursued Masters in Social Work between the years 2007 and 2009 at Bangalore. My specialisation being Medical and Psychiatric Social work, I had involved myself in internships in the field of physical and mental health. I had interned with organisations working in the field of disability, oncology, psychiatry, and neurology. I was exposed to the field of mental health through seminar, conferences and research studies.
I had also taken voluntary trips to different villages in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh to explore issues of community health and socio-economic situations of those places.
During my internships, exploratory visits and thesis I learnt that there is less awareness about health rights, welfare policies and also about different diseases affecting communities. The importance of health has been largely underestimated. For instance, the people working in the match and cracker factories at Sivakasi have skin problems, some are affected with respiratory diseases but they feel it is very usual and these health problems are present in people who are in other districts too. They are unable to relate that these problems are caused specifically in large numbers in people who are working in those factories.
Likewise, the people are unaware of neurological disorders caused due to genetic dispositions and dietary issues. They are also unaware of the fact that chronic exposure to toxic environments also causes neurological diseases in people and their offspring for generations. For Instance, people working in the Kolar district gold mines had a high amount of lead in their systems and the prevalence of neurological diseases in these communities were a lot more than other communities who did not have a huge presence of factories, mines or quarries in their villages. These neurological disorders can be treated with consistency in medication and physiotherapy. There are hardly any awareness programs constructed on these issues. I also learnt that the prevalence of these diseases increased and the health of patients deteriorated by the day in the rural areas and urban slums because of negligence and lack of proper guidance for caregivers. They did not understand the importance of continuous medication and dietary patterns. They did not understand when to understand certain symptoms and call for help. They did not know how to treat patients with neurological illnesses.
The community-based programs I conducted involved arranging for awareness talks on disability, AIDS, psychiatry, neurology and addiction management. The community awareness programs predominantly focused on these aspects:
- Explaining the importance of mental health;
- Explaining the communities on how to demarcate mental illness from physical illness
- Encouraging them to openly discuss the prevalence of neurological and mental illnesses in communities
- Sensitising them about the symptoms and causes of these illnesses
- Discussing the existing stigma, misconceptions and superstition with regard to these illnesses and arriving at ideas on how to eradicate them
- Inducing acceptance within families and communities and explaining them about the importance of social support systems as a crucial factor in the recovery of patients.
It is high time we give focused importance on public health in India, effects of policies on public health and research scope in public health. Mental health issues in urban and rural communities have to be explored deeply.
More research on how to form effective ways of communication through advocacy and research, training and capacity building programs has to be done and feasible solutions have to be acquired. Community leaders have to be identified and then trained.
There are many more areas in public health where intervention is needed, one is the neurological illnesses that are prevalent in many communities and lack of social support systems that impede the pathway to care.