Kerala short film on 150-year-old mental health institute aims to fight stigma

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The documentary is an attempt to shun prejudices against mental health illnesses and their treatment.

The long corridors inside the tiled roof building that stands amidst tall evergreen trees provide a warm welcome to the viewers. The building, which appears like a typical Kerala home, is the 150-year-old Government Mental Health Centre at Peroorkada in Thiruvananthapuram, and the visuals are from a documentary recently released on the noted institute, which provides services to about 60,000 people annually. Despite this, the hospital continues to be looked down upon due to the taboo prevailing over mental health illnesses and their treatments. The documentary titled Akam Puram (Inside Outside), produced by Humans India in association with Kerala State Legal Services Authority, is an attempt to shun these prejudices.

It was in 1870, during the times of dynasty rule, that the centre was opened. Though initially, services were only provided to royal family members, later it was opened to the public. “During the initial days, people with tuberculosis, epilepsy and leprosy were treated along with people with mental health issues. But later, other patients were shifted to other centres and only people with mental health issues started to be treated exclusively here,” Dr Sagar, a consultant psychiatrist, says in the documentary.

In the past 50 years, the centre has seen many scientific developments that leave behind the crude and primitive treatment practises, the documentary states. But the hospital is continuing to be looked down by people due to the prejudices they have about mental health issues, it adds.

While it focuses on the need for people to accept a mental health illness as any other disease, and to actively involve in the rehabilitation of the recovered patients, the film also discusses the changes that are much needed from within the treatment system.

“Patients are lodged in cells resembling prisons. How can the treatment be effective for the patients in such circumstances? This (treatment) should be made patient-friendly,” the documentary points out.

It then goes on to introduce the advancements in treatment facilities in the mental health centre. Many mental health experts and legal experts have been showcased in the film, precisely explaining the need for attitude change among people, on systemic change in treatment mechanisms and on the legal rights of people with mental health illnesses. The almost 23-minute long documentary ends on a pressing note, urging viewers to give a thought that anyone in the ‘outside’ world can be ‘inside’ tomorrow.

Watch video: Documentary ‘Akam Puram’

Meanwhile, the team has also released a nine-minute short film titled Chernnattam starring actor and dubbing artist Shobi Thilakan. The thrilling film portrays how a businessman stumbles on a group of school children who take time out to care for a woman with mental health issues living alone in woods.

“Both the short film and the documentary makes one understand the responsibility of keeping close all those who are alone. The film has opened a space for discussion on how much justice is there on the distinction between those with mental health issues and others,” the team behind the short film said in a statement.

Watch vieo: Short film ‘Chernnattam’

Read: What we need from India’s mental healthcare infrastructure in 2021

Both the short films were recently launched on social media by various Malayalam actors like Dulquer Salmaan and Kani Kusruthi. “One of the most discussed topics during the pandemic is the importance of mental health. This documentary features the wonderful work done by the Thiruvananthapuram Mental Hospital in its 150 years of operations,” Dulquer wrote on Facebook.

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