A month back I was at the Thimphu hospital to see the psychiatrist when I saw three young girls with a middle-aged woman.  Observing them closely I realized that the older woman was one of the girls’ mother, an alcoholic, who had been persuaded to come to see the psychiatrist by her daughter.  One of the girl’s, a friend of that daughter, meanwhile, kept complaining: “Why should a daughter bring her mother along if she is reluctant?” Then they went on to discuss loudly about the “cuckoos” brought in to see the psychiatrist.  Being a schizophrenic patient myself, I was more offended than hurt by their attitude.  I am sure there are many other suffering mental patients like me who would have felt the same. Mental patients are also sick people like any other ailing person and to term them “abnormal” or “raving mad” is an absolute insult to the illness and those suffering from it.  It is like looking down on an HIV/Aids patient or any other patient and making a mockery of their illness.

By the looks of it, these young girls seemed they were privileged and educated.  They were probably lucky to lead comfortable lives and fortunate enough not to have illnesses that others had.  But here they were, judging others who by fate or circumstance were less fortunate than themselves. I quietly took in the irony of the situation and thanked myself that I had a better sense of judgment in life; a judgment that allowed myself to be more empathetic to those who were different or less fortunate than myself, even if I happened to belong to the group of “cuckoos”.

It’s a pitywhen so called educated people, perhaps literate is a better term than educated, ostracize people who are ill, have made mistakes in life, or are in less fortunate circumstances than themselves, never thinking of giving them hope, a new lease of life, another chance or a reason to smile by scorning and shunning them.

The attitude is the same those mired in the world of substance abuse.

Krishna KumariBiswa, who has been a rehabilitation center counselor for three years now, said that most youngsters aged 13 to 25 years took marijuana, while many aged 25 to 50 were abusing alcohol.

“Many of them feel they are outcasts, isolated, unloved and unwanted by the society,” she said adding that they had, what she termed,“character defects”, which worsened the problem causingthem to misbehave, steal and commit crimes.

Asked how she dealt with recovering substance abusers, she said that the first thing was to be genuinely friendly and loving to them. She says that gaining their trust is very essential and that one has to be an extremely good listener and talk to them without being judgmental or dictating to them, but rather making suggestions in a gentle, frank and open manner.   She also gives classes “based on the reality of addiction”. “You have to let them open up and it’s always better they go to rehab,” she said.

We may all not be social workers or counselors but it is keeping in mind the vulnerability of these people who are struggling with the illness of addiction, that we shouldhave some empathy to their struggle.  Such an understanding – to not look down or make fun off this illness – is needed on the part of society so that people who suffer from addiction, and other mental and behavioral issues can be integratedand helped in their recovery.

Krishna pointed out that in Bhutanese society, the major cause of drug addictions and alcoholism is family problems.

“If a relationship breaks, the person also breaks,” she said. This is the reason why acceptance especially from family is so important when a person is recovering from his addiction. A very supportive environment is necessary when they are learning to leave their addictive habits. “Most of them have faced rejection in life and therefore are full of hatred directed towards themselves and others,” said Krishna.

Asked about her own experience with this particular group, she said that the more she worked with them, the more she understood them.

“You have to use both your head and heart to deal with them” she said.

A councilor’s work, according to her, is to breach the gap between the addict and the society/family. “The root cause for many cases of relapse is often because of a feeling of rejection and acceptance from family members, friends and society.”

Therefore, in a society where we hold family values as a strong foundation for societal growth, it should go without saying that so-called “normal” people need to, and should, extend their understanding for the ill.  And if they can’t do that, at least refrain from voicing prejudiced, hurtful and offensive opinions upon Children of a Lesser God.

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