Mental health depiction in films

Don Juan DeMarco

As mentioned many times on this blog, I am volunteer and supporter of Schizophrenia Awareness Association(SAA) in Pune, which is active in spreading awareness of schizophrenia and other related mental illnesses. I also work as facilitator for self help support group(SHSG) for care takers and also for people affected by mental illness. One of the challenges organizations like SAA face to eliminate misconceptions and misinterpretations of various incidents that take place in society involving so called mad people. The recent example are quite fresh in memory. One of them was involving a person taking charge of a passenger bus in Pune and driving rashly killing few people. This happened last year. The other one happened last month in Delhi where a person killed himself and family members.

The film media also has portrayed mental illness in different manners over the years. We all can share these depictions in Indian films and also western films, as we see them now and again. Mental illness or so called “abnormal behavior” is popular theme used in the films to draw attention.

I recently came across Diwali special edition of Marathi magazine titled Vishranti(विश्रांती), which was dedicated to mental illness. One of the articles was about the portrayal of mental illness in film media(which I translated here in English later). I do intend to do bigger blog on this topic, but here I can draw some quick examples. Many times we see characters depicted as mad or different to generate comedy. The villains also have been shown as having extreme mannerisms or attitude having shades of mental illnesses. But at the same time, we find movies portraying them in positive manner as well. Marathi movie Devrai(देवराई), Hindi movie Taare Jamin Par(तारे जमीन पर) are few examples. Mentally ill characters are also used to depict mystery or terror which is done in movies such as Psycho, Silence of Lambs. The famous Hindi movie Devdas(देवदास) contains depiction of depression and alcoholism.

Mental health depiction in films

Don Juan DeMarco (Image courtesy: Internet

But yesterday, I came across an interesting movie titled Don Juan DeMacro while surfing on the idiot box aka television. I did not watch the whole movie, but I can share the concept which is very different. Don Juan is a Spanish legendary character known as a womanizer, to the extent of loosing self control and displaying lunatic behaviors, popularized in Spanish literature since 15th century. So in this movie, a person who calls himself or thinks himself as Don Juan, undergoing consultation with a psychiatrist. The mental issue depicted here is that, that person is undergoing delusion where he thinks of himself as Don Juan.  BTW, this person is portrayed by young Johnny Deep and he was very nice to watch. The problem lies further. It so happens that the psychiatrist gets involved in his story and his delusion as he narrates him during consulting sessions, where he draws parallels in his troubled and aging married life.

Now this is an interesting thought. And it underlines the very important aspect of people involved in giving care to mentally ill persons. And this is what is stressed as one of points to care takers who are part of our SHSG meetings. It is very natural that when care takers are living with personas with mental illness(PMI) people around them all the time, their so called “normal” behavior also can get impacted. It is very much possible to go to the extent of relating PMIs delusions, and other mental conditions, to ones personal life as well. And that can be devastating in the process of giving care and recovery path. Techniques such as REBT for care givers can be one way to get around this aspect.


I have been associated with organization called Schizophrenia Awareness Association(SAA) since 2009 as supporter and volunteer. And I have written on this blog few times in the past(Introduction to SAA, REBT, SHSG). During my association, my understanding about mental health issues, and challenges got better. Recovery and rehabilitation of persons suffering from mental health issues is ultimate goal for anyone involved. SAA conducts sessions for both patients and care givers, covering various topics, focusing on recovery and rehab, along with various other stages of mental health.

Abraham Low, famous psychiatrist came with set of guidelines and methods to employ during recovery process for people with mental health issues. These days, I am reading Marathi translation of his biography written by Neil & Margaret Rau(I will write more about the book later on the blog). Here, I wanted to talk about recovery process. His proposition is around self-help and self-instruction. In 1931, he came up with simple and effective technique to be employed during recovery process. Encouraged by seeing results of this method, he and others were involved in founding organization called Recovery International.

Recovery Method focuses on Spotting, reframing defeatist language, self-endorsement and creating Examples. Some of the most common spotting tools, which we use, during SHSG meeting at SAA are described here. Spotting refers to consciously increasing self-awareness and identifying what is happening and preparing to cope up with it. Reframing language refers to avoid self-diagnosis and encourages seeking help of doctor, many times it is negative or not aligned with reality. Self-diagnosis is very common with persons affected with mental health. Self-endorsement is a technique related to dividing larger goal into smaller objectives, and reminding oneself to stick to those, no matter what the outcome would be. Creating Examples technique encourages person to recognize and record experiences and challenges faces, and failures and success of dealing with it. And more importantly, talking about it and sharing them in next SHSG meetings.

I would like to conclude this blog on a different note altogether. In my professional life, I am involved in information technology business. Enterprises these days have become more aware of disaster recovery(DR). At Sungard AS where I work, we have solutions and services built around DR. Fundamental tenets of recovery from disasters, is backing up/replicating IT environment and data. Disasters can happen anytime. And when they happen, these backups or replicated information is used to recover from the disaster. I cannot help myself wonder on possibility of similar avenue for humans. When brain encounters disasters, it should be possible to recover to previous good state. I know, I don’t want to get into eternal argument of man and machine comparison-we are far from nearing it despite the fact that so much of innovation is taking place around nano-technology and wearable devices. May be, intelligent machines, robots, who carry artificial intelligence, are recoverable in this manner, as they are ultimately machine in true sense. But recovery for human beings in this manner is a scary thought, to say the least.

Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences.

PS: Update on Oct 11, 2015: I finally finished the book My Dear Ones which is referred above. I have written about it here

Self help books/how to books-How useful they really are?

In my housing society complex(Kunal Icon), we celebrate Independence Day and Republic Day every year by flat hoisting and also arranging a guest lecture by experts/accomplished personalities. We had famous Marathi author, playwright Shivraj Gorle for this year’s Republic Day celebrations. He is very famous self help book writer. He, being a very good orator, entertained audience in his lucid and attractive style about art of living.

The question raised in the title of the blog came to fore once again while I was listening to him. This has always been in my mind as a question asked quite often. At the same time, we all know how big the market on such category of books, and many of the bestsellers are from this category. That means people are buying it, reading it, but not sure how useful this bibliotherapy is if followed verbatim. I personally was never a great fan of such books and never took them very seriously.

It is said that such category of self help books, ‘how to books’ started with Dale Carnegie’s book titled ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People?’ in early 20th century. Do they really help the readers? Some books are based on own experiences, others are based on psychological theories, while few others try to give case studies, and also prescriptive solutions.

Gorle raised the same question and he was more inclined towards saying that they do help, and he threw readers’ responses as proofs. Gorle, of course, stressed that such books can help only if advice is put in practice. One needs to approach with open mind and accept change.

While some other authors such as Sanjay Bhaskar Joshi, has expressed views effectively discounting the usefulness of such books, rather cautioning on going blind eyed. They do indeed help author and publisher nonetheless, as such books are sold typically as hot cakes.

Everybody goes through levels of challenges and stressful situations on various fronts such as career, relationships. Most of us try to find a quick way out for problems. As humans, we typically look for prescriptive solutions for problems we face. I come across many such cases as I have been working as lay counselor for a self-help support-group(SHSG) in mental health domain under SAA. The fact is that there is no such hard-cast solution. There could be some patterns. But again those need to applied in each case very diligently.

What do you think?

SAA YCM SHSG anniversary

२००९ मध्ये आकाशवाणी वरील एका कार्यक्रमामुळे मी पुण्यातील स्किझोफ्रेनिया अवेरनेस असोसिएशन(‘सा’) शी जोडलो गेलो. त्यांच्या वेगवेगळ्या कार्यक्रमाला उपस्थित राहणे, स्व-मदत गटाच्या बैठकांना हजर राहणे, आणि या ना त्या प्रकारे ‘सा’ च्या मूळ उद्दिष्टांच्या संदर्भात काही तरी योगदान देत राहणे सुरु होते. २०१२ च्या शेवटी शेवटी माझी ओळख भूषण कुलकर्णी यांच्याशी झाली. तसेच पिंपरी चिंचवड भागात असा स्व-मदत गट चालू करावा ही त्यांची इच्छा मला कळली. तो पर्यंत मी त्या दृष्टीने काही विचारच केला नव्हता. मी आणि भूषण कुलकर्णी मिळून नोव्हेंबर २०१३ मध्ये ‘सा’ तर्फे वाय सी एम मध्ये शुभांकारांसाठी मदत गट चालू केला. त्याला २०१४ मध्ये वर्ष होवून गेलं. नुकताच आम्ही पहिला वर्धापन दिन साजरा केला. त्याचा हा वृतांत आणि आढावा.

आमच्या मार्गदर्शिका आणि ‘सा’ च्या ज्येष्ठ सदस्य नीलिमाताई बापट यांनी प्रास्ताविक केले. ‘सा’ची सुरुवात, आणि त्याचे मानसिक आजार क्षेत्रातील स्थान बोलल्या. कार्यक्रमाचे अध्यक्ष डॉ. किशोर गुजर यांची ओळख करून दिली. डॉ. गुजर हे वाय सी एम च्या मानसोपचार विभागाचे प्रमुख आहेत. त्यानंतर डॉ. गुजर यांनी वाय सी एम मधील मानसोपचार विभागाचा आढावा घेतला. त्यांच्या व ‘सा’ च्या संबंधाबद्दल माहिती दिली. कार्यक्रमाचे प्रमुख पाहुणे डॉ. मनोहर धडफळे यांची ओळख करून दिली. डॉ. धडफळे यांना ५० वर्षांचा मानसोपचार क्षेत्रातील भारतात तसेच परदेशातील गाढ अनुभव आहे. ते वाय सी एम च्या मानसोपचार विभागात व्याख्याते म्हणून मार्गदर्शन करत असतात.

त्यानंतर मुख्य कार्यक्रमाला सुरुवात झाली. प्रथम आमच्या स्वमदत गटात येणाऱ्या काही शुभांकारनी त्यांचे अनुभव सांगितले. कामत, राजापुरे, नेकनारायण, भूषण कुलकर्णी यांनी त्यांच्या शुभार्थीबद्दल, त्याच्या एकूण प्रवासाबद्दल सांगितले. लाखापुरे यांनी मानसिक आजार आणि अंधश्रद्धा यावर त्यांचे अनुभव सांगितले. हे सर्व अतिशय हृद्य आणि उस्फुर्त अनुभव कथन झाले. माझ्या कथनात मी स्वमदत गटाचा आढावा घेतला. त्यानंतर,ज्याची सर्वांना खुपच उत्सुकता होती, ते डॉ. धडफळे यांचे बीजभाषण, तसेच मन मोकळा संवाद झाला. त्यांनी त्यांच्या इंग्लंडमधील आलेले अनुभव सांगितले आणि तेथे आता मानसिक आजारी व्यक्तीसाठी रुग्णालये जवळ जवळ नाहीत याबद्दल अतिशय रंजक माहिती दिली आणि अश्या व्यक्तींचे तेथील समाजातच कसे उपचार केले जातात याबद्दल सांगितले. ते पुढे म्हणाले की, ‘समाजात जशी जशी प्रगती होत जात आहे, तसे तसे मानसिक आजाराचे प्रमाण वाढत जाते. अंधश्रद्धाच्या मार्गाने न जाता, शास्त्रीय उपचार घेवून त्यावर मात करता येते’. त्यांनी स्वमदत गटाचे तसेच कुटुंबातील मदतीचे महत्व अधोरेखित केले. त्यांनी त्यांचे परदेशातील प्रामुख्याने केनियातील आणि इंग्लंड मधील अनुभव सांगितले. शासकीय पातळीवर मानसिक आजाराबद्दल वेगवेगळे कायदे आणि जागृती कार्याबद्दल त्यांनी सांगितले.

त्यानंतर शेवटी वाय सी एम चे प्रकाश जुकंतवार यांनी आभारप्रदर्शन केले आणि कार्यक्रम संपला. प्रकाश हे Psychiatric Social Worker म्हणून काम पाहतात. त्यांचा ह्या सर्व उपक्रमामध्ये प्रथम पासूनच अतिशय रस आणि सहकार्य मिळत गेले आहे.

आज उद्या करत, शेवटी नोव्हेबर २०१३ तिसऱ्या शनिवारी गट सुरु झाला आणि आता वर्षभर चालू आहे. आम्ही महिन्याच्या पहिल्या आणि तिसऱ्या शनिवारी येथे भेटतो. गेल्या नोव्हेबर मध्ये एक वर्ष होवून गेले. तेव्हा पासूनच हा कार्यक्रम करावा असा विचार चालू होता. आतापर्यंत आम्ही जवळ जवळ ६० शुभांकारांशी जोडलो गेलो आहोत. त्यातील कमीत कमी १०-१२ तरी असे आहेत की ते नियमित ह्या बैठकीना येत असतात. ही तर फक्त सुरुवात आहे. आमच्या पुढे बरीच आव्हाने आहेत. उदाहरणार्थ, प्रत्येक बैठकीमध्ये वाय सी एम मध्ये येणारे नवीन शुभंकर येत असतात, जी एका दृष्टीने(समाजात जागृती होण्याच्या) चांगली गोष्ट आहे. पण त्यामुळे, प्रत्येक बैठकीत आम्हाला नवीन शुभांकाराबरोबर वेळ घालवावा लागतो. तसेच त्यातील बरेच जण बाहेरगावचे असतात, आणि त्यांच्या बरोबर बऱ्याचदा शुभार्थी सुद्धा असतात. स्व-मदत आधार गटात काही ठोस कार्यक्रम करण्यास त्यातील शुभंकरानी नियमित येणे आवश्यक आहे, जेणेकरून एखादा विषय घेवून त्यावर दर वेळेस चर्चा करणे शक्य होत नाही. अश्या मुळे हवा तसा बदल अथवा फरक काही काळानंतर दिसू लागतो. ह्या समस्येवर थोडे विचार मंथन करून काही उपाय केले पाहीजे. शुभांकारामध्ये आपण एकटे नाही आहोत अशी भावना निर्माण करण्यासाठी करावे लागणारे उपक्रम आम्ही अजून सुरु करू शकलो नाही(जसे की सर्वानी मिळून बाहेर जाणे). तसे असले तरी सुद्धा आम्ही औषधांच्या किमती आणि वाय सी एम मध्ये त्यांची उपलब्धता यावर बरीच चर्चा आम्ही करू शकलो आणि तो विषय बराच पुढे गेला आहे असे म्हणू शकतो. नीलिमाताई आमच्याबरोबर प्रत्येक वेळी असतात, पण त्याही कधी ना कधी थांबणार आहेत आणि हा गट आपल्यालाच सुरु ठेवायचा आहे याचे भानही आहे. ह्या अडचणीवर मात करून, शुभार्थीसाठीही गट सुरु करायचा आहे. ह्या भागात कार्यशाळा आणि इतर उपक्रम राबवायचे आहेत. पिंपरी चिंचवड भागातील औद्योगिक क्षेत्रातील संस्थांचा सहभाग करून घेवून शुभार्थींच्या पुनर्वसनाबाबतीत काम करायचे आहे. पाहुयात कसे काय जमते ते.

जाता जाता स्वमदत गटात म्हटली जाणारी प्रार्थना येथे देतो. ही प्रार्थना Serenity Prayer चे भाषांतर आहे.

जे टाळणे अशक्य ते शक्ती दे सहाया, जे शक्य साध्य आहे निर्धार दे कराया|

मज काय शक्य आहे, आहे अशक्य काय, माझे मला कळाया दे बुद्धी देवराया||

SAA SHSG at YCM Hospital in Pimpri

I have written in the past about Schizophrenia Awareness Association(SAA) and its activities on this blog. As you know, their activities are concentrated mainly in and around Pune city as the center is located in Dhayari in Pune. I and Bhushan, who live in PCMC area, always felt the need for such a center in PCMC area to cater to the needs of shubharthis and shubhankars in this area. When approached SAA officials on the proposal, not only they supported us, but also ensured that we get formally trained in running such groups, and also helping bootstrapping it.

I am glad to inform you that SAA has been running SHSG for shubhankars in collaboration with YCM Hospital in Pimpri for last one year now. Myself, Bhushan, Neelima Bapat, Smita Godse have been involved in coordinating, facilitating and running this group. Guidance, support and help of Dr Kishor Gujar and Prakash Jukantwar has been pivotal in running of this group at YCM Hospital’s premises.

We have begun having SHSG group for shubhakars right now. Later we have plans to start one for shubharthis. Currently, this group meets twice a month(once once first Saturday and later on third Saturday), during 11.45 am to 1.30 pm. We have so far over 50 shubhankars registered and have been availing the facility.

It is needless to say that PCMC area also needed such facility to compliment work of psychiatrists at YCM or other independent practitioners. We, as volunteers of SAA, are encouraged by the response we have got so far.

We will soon be organizing a formal inauguration function. I will update on that as the details are finalized. My sincere appeal to you all is to spread the availability of such facility in PCMC and Pune area to all those unfortunate ones in the society you think need help.