Oct. 10 was World Mental Health Day. People worldwide are experiencing the unprecedented impact of the pandemic on the physical and mental health as they are gripped by anxiety, fear, isolation, social distancing and restrictions, and related emotional distress. On this day Sister Roselyn Karakattu would like to be out in the street distributing mental health pamphlets and presenting street plays to build awareness of mental health as she used to do while working with those with mental illness in Kathmandu, Nepal. But she could not during this pandemic. Instead, she got creative.

“Let me tell a mental health-related story that made me very happy,” shares Sister Roselyn.

One of the most challenging, daring, and meaningful ministries I have engaged in the past was releasing, providing treatment and rehabilitation for the mentally challenged persons who were languishing in Kathmandu’s Central Prison. In this ministry, I was supported by my own SCN community and my students from Nepal Jesuit Social work Institute, where I taught Social Work for several years. One of these students, Shanti Jirel, had recently joined an organization, New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Centre, in Tansen, Palpa district, in West Nepal. Last week she texted me to inform me of her whereabouts and casually mentioned that at the NLP center, there is a gentleman named Hazari who is now well enough to go back home, but his home is far away in India. She had no idea, neither did Hazari, how he ended up in the neighboring country. I asked Shanti to find some details about Hazari. Feverish texting went on between us, and I understood that his home is only about 45 kilometers from Gaya, where I live.

The rest of the story was so inspiring. Hazari was able to recall the name of the police station about six kilometers from his village. Google helped me to find the mobile number of the police station. I called the Police, and the response was positive. I texted through Whatsapp the important details Shanti had gathered about Hazari’s family. I had to wait patiently for another two days, calling daily reminding the police officer to get me in contact with Hazari’s family. Finally, a call came on Tuesday the 6th of October 2020 from Hazari’s nephew, Dharmendra. I can’t explain what joy the conversation brought me, as I was impatiently waiting for it. The next thing from his side was a request for a video call so that Hazari’s eighty-year-old mother could see her son. Thanks to Social media, Facebook, Messenger, and Whatsapp, within a few hours, Hazari was able to connect with his nephew, mother, wife, and sons. Shanti and I witnessed and shared the joy of reuniting the family after a long gap of six years. The family thought Hazari was dead and gone as they had looked for him everywhere possible for a long time. I felt like I was in Nepal, where I was part of many such family reunions.

Shanti was kind enough to take a screenshot of the reunion on Whatsapp, and hence I can share a few photos with you.

Now the challenge before us is to prepare the family to receive Hazari, provide him a supportive environment, and maintain the medicines not to wander away again. As the end of the pandemic and lockdown seems still far away, and India Nepal border closed, train and bus services are yet to be resumed, the family reunion could be a long wait. Hazari s wife and children work in brick kilns, jobs that the very poor enter into on a daily wage basis. As such, they expressed their inability to bring him home, paying all the expenses. But I am hopeful that we may raise the money to support them in this endeavor. Family counseling is essential, too, as Individuals with mental illness and their family members go through a loss of self and identity that they have to overcome, or at least manage. 

Mental illnesses, like bipolar, literarily brings a person to an edge and destabilize him/her to the extent that the road to a total recovery is a long process. I believe it is possible. Mental Health is a human right, and it must be available to all. In the case of Hazari, I hope to guide and accompany his family in this process. Such interventions are life-giving for me and others, and it energizes me to walk many extra miles to accomplish it.