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Thursday, 15 September 2011

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Mental health stigmas thrive in India

INDIA: Psychiatrist Fabian Almeida was stunned when the co-operative society next to his clinic outside Mumbai wrote to him complaining about his patients, who suffer from mental health issues. He was told that those receiving treatment for conditions ranging from depression and obsessive compulsive disorder to hyperactivity and dyslexia were a nuisance to other residents and should be kept inside.

"They were talking about them spreading germs," he told AFP by telephone from the commuter town of Kalyan, in the Indian state of Maharashtra.

Almeida's experience is not an isolated case in India, with long-standing concern about attitudes towards the country's estimated 40-90 million people with mental and physical disabilities.

"The whole system is not ready to help people," said Aqeel Qureshi, a disability rights activist who manages the Disability News India website and campaigns for better access for disabled people.

Qureshi, a wheelchair user, said he was stranded at New Delhi's new $2.7-billion international airport terminal for two hours earlier this year after the lifts broke down. On other occasions he said he missed flights because of a lack of lifts to the aircraft. Disabled people have been stopped from flying altogether by some airlines.

In Indian towns and cities, high kerbs, poorly maintained or non-existent pavements, stairs and a lack of wheelchair ramps are common hazards, making daily life difficult or impossible for the physically disabled.

Packed buses with high access steps, overcrowded suburban trains that halt only for 30 seconds in stations or a lack of public disabled toilets add to the problems.

In Mumbai, new pedestrian crossings have recently been installed at busy junctions but the audible signals - designed to tell the visually impaired when to cross - have been silenced. Residents complained they were too noisy, the Hindustan Times newspaper reported last week.

Lack of awareness and not consulting disabled people or the groups representing them is often to blame, Qureshi said.

"The problem with authorities is that they think they're very smart and very intelligent and that they know our needs. It's an attitude problem," he said from his base in Tokyo. AFP

 

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