The Stupendous Power of Networking

November 2, 2023

A wandering mentally ill male adult was seen in my porch in scant clothing at 3.30 AM on September 7, 2023. He had opened the gate, not fearful of a Mudhol hound barking into his face. The local Police station was alerted and an assurance that they would arrive, was given by them but not carried out. Meanwhile, the actively hallucinating mentally ill person was asked to vacate our premises as we had no place for him nor could we think of considering his admission into any treatment facility without presenting him before a magistrate in keeping with the MHC Act. Our domestic help and the watchman from the neighbourhood apartment building, were standing with sticks in their hands fearing danger.

Once the day broke, feeling guilty at having sent a needy person away (on Krishnashtami day, besides), we went looking for him in two vehicles. We had clicked his picture to share with the police and that was shared with a good Samaritan who rescues the needy and gets them treated. This good Samaritan, Vishu Shetty, was also a part of the search team. The ailing person however, could not be found. The picture of the mentally ill person was shared in our professional group - APSWP with a request to help trace his relatives. I had made a fairly accurate guess that he may be a tribal person from Orissa.

While guilt played on my mind as to where he may have gone, three days later, on 10th September, 2023 we received news of him being sighted about 20 kms away and Vishu Shetty promptly drove therewith his team, picked him up and got him admitted at a psychiatry facility in Udupi. On the September 11, I visited the hospital where he had been admitted the previous evening as I had a suicide prevention awareness lecture for nursing students, in the same place. I offered him some fruits and sweets of Krishnashtami that I did not have the presence of mind to share with him when he wandered in to our yard.

He'd been at the Udupi hospital for over two weeks and I began asking the treating team about what they have gathered about his home address and family details, so that we could attempt tracing family and reuniting him with them. They weren’t able to provide much, except that he was from Orissa. They said that the local police had been informed. That wasn’t a happy solution for me and I requested them to spend a little time with him to carefully elicit land marks by way of river, industries, temples, church, mosque, hospitals, cinema houses, shopping malls around his village, taluk, district etc. They were able to give me some information on the 27th evening and that was promptly shared with our APSWP team and several of the members messaged me saying that they would use their contacts around there to find his relatives. They would look for ‘Missing’ person’s list with the police etc. By the 28th forenoon, in a matter of a few hours, Voila! our APSWP members corrected and completed the address given by the patient and even provided the contact number of the son whose name had been provided to them. That was so prompt, efficacious and simply amazing to absorb that in a multi-cultural, highly populous state, a poor man’s family could be traced with such efficiency, thanks to the intent, seriousness of purpose and digital savviness of the committed team of our APSWP members!

As and when I received information on his family, it was shared with the treating team and the good Samaritan Vishu Shetty, who had admitted him to the hospital. I spoke telephonically to the older son who said that the father had been well when he left their village for Goa about a month back and they were worried as to why he had not returned. I spoke to the daughter in law who seemed affectionate towards her Father-in law. She said that the patient’s younger son had already set out to look for his father and I picked up his number and spoke to him. The daughter in law called me back asking to speak to her FIL on a video call managing to get a higher end phone from a neighbour. I sought permission of the treating doctor and shared his number with her. The doctor later called me back to say that the family had spoken to the patient on a video call and that the doctor himself was able to put a few pieces of the jig saw puzzle of the diagnosis together, to be able to treat him better, by eliciting history from a significant relative that is so crucial in psychiatric case management.

The patient had been happy to interact with the family and is looking forward to getting back home, said the doctor.

Another important concern was of ensuring treatment of this person who had suffered from a major psychiatric disorder-psychosis. We did not want him on the streets ever again and wanted to involve the family in the same. When this concern of preventing a relapse was shared with the APSWP team, they quickly got back into the act and helped find doctors fairly close to where his residence was. The psychiatrist whose details were provided by our team member, was contacted when her line was busy, and, she had the courtesy to return the call. She said that she’d be at the DHH on all working days from 9 to 1 PM. Some information about the patient was shared with her so that he is received well, which will also enable better treatment compliance. The treating doctor here in Udupi, Karnataka was given the information regarding centre for referral in Orissa with the doctor’s name, designation and telephone number. The family was asked to take him to the doctor without fail to keep him functioning well as a useful, productive person of the family/community.

I still cannot get over the miracle that our team of APSWP created by tracing the needy person’s family overnight! Proud to be a PSW!

On October 1, 2023 the patient was reunited with his son and brother who arrived from Odisha and took him back home. Immensely grateful to the good Samaritan Vishu Shetty who made the treatment of this human possible.

APSWP: Association of Psychiatric Social Work Professionals is a group of committed psychiatric social workers who have studied in the country in several places that train them through a two year post M.SW programme - MPhil in a neuro psychiatric centre like NIMHANS, Bangaluru; CIP- Central Institute of Psychiatry, Ranchi; KMC, Dept of Psychiatry, Manipal; PGIMER, Chandigarh to name a few. They work all over the country, world, in many domains where their clinical, psychosocial-family-employment- community related expertise is needed.




By Shalini K Sharma
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