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The 2nd National Conference of Caregivers

The 2nd National Conference of Caregivers of the Mentally Ill was held in Chennai (formerly Madras) India, January 31 and Feb 1, 2003.

In the club room of the YMCA, Dr. Radha Shankar welcomed delegates to the conference and spoke of the burgeoning of family support in all parts of India and the need to foster and develop it. A presentation by AASHA, Chennai, on the reason for forming and building family support and self-help followed. AASHA, which had been formed over 10 years ago, has had many successes and some disappointments, but the expressions of hope and thanks given by families keeps them going.

The following workshops took place:

Family professional collaboration for family education

Providing families with the knowledge and skills to help their patients make the best possible recovery is now established as an effective treatment approach. In India, however, families must themselves become active in organizing such education programs, and use the services offered by professionals. The workshop introduced the concept that families must collaborate with professionals in conducting education programs. It provided families with the "why and how; what to do and what not to do; and what to expect while conducting education programs. There was a practical demonstration of an educational session to teach families how to create an atmosphere that will promote recovery in their patient.

Among those leading the session were delegates from Kiran, Mumbai and the Schizophrenia Awareness Association, Pune. The professional resource persons for the session were Dr. Mathew Verghese, Dr. Ahalya Raguram and Dr. G. Uday Kumar, NIMHANS, Bangalore.

Motivating presentations on "Why Family Groups?" were given by groups Rahsmi from Delhi; Marghadeepth from Palghat and Maitri from Mumbai.

Family professional collaboration for sustainable income generation

Although paid and competitive employment is the desired goal for most patients with major mental illness, this was not always possible to achieve. This workshop introduced the concept that families must collaborate with professionals in income generation activities for their patients. The session was practical and interactive and guided families in this initiative. The session also gave information about the type of products that could be made in sheltered workshops; marketing, and Government employment policies. Among those leading the sessions were Mukul Goswami of Ashadeep Guwahati and Ishitha Sanyal, Turning Point, Kolkata. The professional resource person was Dr. C. Ramasubramaniam, Consultant Psychiatrist, Madurai.

Caregivers from the family group Subitcham joined in the presentation.

Workshops were well organized giving a change between panel and interactive discussions and personal presentations giving different points of view from the family groups participating. On the 2nd morning, for instance, the topic "Why Family Groups" was again taken up with presentations by representatives from Aadha, Goa; Sahanaya, Colombo and Margadarshi, Bangalore.

Family professional collaboration to create awareness and fight stigma

This was the topic for the next full workshop which proceeded in the same fashion as before on the difficult topic of stigma and discrimination.

It is well established that families delay seeking help for their relative who may be suffering from mental illness, due to a variety of reasons including poor awareness, stigma, myths and superstitions. All over the world, families have been active in dispelling the myths that surround mental illness and are helping to pierce the veil of stigma and secrecy which is a big barrier for social acceptance. This workshop spoke of family collaboration with professionals in creating awareness activities and described ways in which families could become "spokespersons" for people with major mental illness.
Conducting this workshop were representatives from AMEND, Bangalore and the Schizophrenia Awareness Association, Pune. Professional resource persons were Dr. Harish Shetty, Consultant Psychiatrist Mumbai.

Family professional collaboration for advocacy

Families represent a very powerful collective force that can function as a pressure group to bring about changes in policy, legislation, programs and services for people with mental illness. Families needed to join hands with professionals to lobby with governments and decision makers. The workshop discussed ways open to families to achieve these aims. Family resource person for this workshop was Dr. Nirmala Srinivasan AMEND, Bangalore. The professional resource person was Dr. R. Padmavati, Deputy Director Schizophrenia Research Foundation Chennai.

Following the formal session was an open house to discuss the way forward which was attended with great enthusiasm by the delegates. It was moderated by Dr. Sudhir Khandelwal and Mr. Gandhi.