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In this update we share Banni's story, and explore the stigma around mental illness in Indian society. Although from an affluent family, Banni is not supported because her mental illness brings shame and embarrassment onto her family.
When workers from Saathi met Banni, she said she had lost her way and was trying to get back to Anand Hostel in Kandivli (a suburb of Mumbai) where she is the in-charge of the boys’ hostel. As the interaction continued, Banni shared that she was from Diphu, Assam, and had studied at a Mumbai university. She then confided that she had two children, Joseph and Ramzei, and was married to Prince William of Britain and Prince James of Russia.
Banni’s case worker immediately contacted to local police in Diphu, Assam, in an effort to trace her family. Through the active cooperation of the police, her family was quickly located and Banni’s elder brother soon contacted the case worker. He confirmed that Banni had suffered from psychiatric problems for the past 8 years and ongoing medical treatment and medication had not led to her recovery. She had run away several times, and this time had been away from home for quite a while. He said the family would come to Mumbai to take her home immediately.
But a week passed, and there was no word from the family. When Banni’s case worker called, the brother again assured her they would be coming to take Banni and also gave some more details about her past. This was the 3rd time she’d run away from home and he knew she had previously been in contact with Shraddha Nursing Home in Borivali.
While waiting for the family to come, the caseworker contacted Shraddha Nursing Home in an effort to fill in the medical history. Banni’s doctor there spoke about her case – Banni had been found on the streets and because of her mental status, she was kept under medications. Once her family was found, Shraddha Nursing Home sent her back home. But Banni again ran away and returned to Shraddha. This time, she was 3 months pregnant. The doctors again restored her to her family. The family wasn’t very cooperative or supportive towards her mental health, but the family was affluent and fit to take care of her.
The 3rd time Banni ran away, she again returned to Shraddha Nursing Home, this time with a 1 month old baby and her psychiatric condition had worsened. Since the family was uncooperative, she was referred to an organization in Pune, Maharashtra (about 3 hours from Mumbai). There, she was kept under observation and medication. After 6 months, Banni ran away and returned to Mumbai, leaving her child with the organization. It was then that Saathi met her.
In the 3 weeks spent gathering this information, Banni’s family did not come to pick her up nor did they contact Saathi. When the caseworker would call them, they gave assurances that they were coming. Finally the caseworker confronted the family and asked if they would at least support the organization for Banni’s rehabilitation. The family replied that Banni’s mental illness and running away from home had brought shame on the family and they would not support her in any way. They have never contacted Saathi again.
Through it all, Banni remained in the shelter at Saathi, receiving psychiatric care and medication. It has been 2 months and she has found a niche for herself, using her own education to assist in teaching the other girls English. She is aware of her illness and understands the need for medication and treatment to keep the schizophrenia in check. She has been extremely cooperative with her caseworker in this.
Banni’s story is an example of the very real stigma attached to mental illness. She is well educated and comes from an affluent family, yet she has ended up homeless.