Posted by Shrabanti Mitra and Gunjan Chandak Khemka for Iswar Sankalpa, Kolkata
Usha is a single-parent who works as a domestic help in four houses to provide for her daughter and herself. Her daughter Sushmita is 30 years old and has intellectual disability.
They were abandoned by her husband when Sushmita was just two years old. Usha is the bearer of what we call a caregiver’s burden – and we know it is not easy. Sushmita’s genetic condition allows limited progress, and there are days when everything seems to be going wrong.
This Lockdown seems like one of those days – only it feels never-ending. Usha shares with her daughter’s counsellor, “Didi Ami ei meye ke nie aar parchhina…dudin por to emni e more jabo na khete peye, er jalay hoy to ei Lockdown er bajarei more jete hobe.” [Didi, I cannot bear with this girl anymore. Anyway I will die due to hunger in a couple of days. Because of her I will die during this Lockdown only.]
Usha is struggling to make ends meet. Since their locality is a red zone with restricted movement, Usha is unable to visit her employers and collect her salary. She has to pay rent, run the kitchen, get her daughter’s medication and take care of her own mental health. The anxiety and frustration is ever present. Usha is one of the 2.6 million female domestic workers in India (NSSO 68th round 2011−12). Sushmita is one of the 6.9 million people with psychosocial disabilities in India (Census, 2011). The Lockdown has affected millions like Usha and Sushmita across the country.
The disruption of “life before Lockdown” has been hard for Sushmita to grapple with. “Ami sharakkhon moonkh bendhe thakte parbo na, amake baire niye cholo” [I cannot stay with my mouth tied up all day, take me outside!], Sushmita voices very often nowadays. Sushmita does not understand Coronavirus. What is Coronavirus? What is this “rog” [illness]? Why is her mother asking her to cover her mouth? Why can’t she go out when she wants to?
Her counsellor has been speaking with Sushmita on the phone regularly. It helps her to express her feelings and vent out. But Sushmita’s health condition also demands a daily dose of medication. Her mother shares that Sushmita’s mental health has deteriorated – she has become restless, is banging her head against the wall very often, and is beating her own self and others. She has even tried to strangulate herself. To top this, for Usha to go out and look for medicines, when even food is a luxury right now has been tough.
Two women. Both struggling in their own right. One often ends up resorting to hurting herself, while the other is constantly anxious about an empty kitchen. They try and understand each other, but they always end up feeling alone, locked in deeper, in a life of poverty, mental distress and a gnawing uncertainty about their future. Both invisible. Both unheard.
It is hard to hold on to hope at such times, when daily life experiences are emotionally and physically taxing.
But, every person struggling with their own mental health, remember you are not alone.
Every caregiver out there, remember you are doing the best you can. Take a small break everyday to care about your own mental health.
We will get through this yet. This too shall pass.
* Names have been changed to respect privacy of the persons
Sushmita is a service user at Iswar Sankalpa’s Urban Mental Health Programme (UMHP). The above voices are shared by Sushmita’s counsellor who has been supporting Sushmita to cope with the change through tele-counselling.
UMHP in association with Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) provides accessible mental healthcare in Ward Health Units of wards 11, 26, 54, 78 and 82, which are socioeconomically backward areas. The UMHP is designed to integrate mental healthcare with primary healthcare systems, making it accessible and affordable and working towards overcoming the stigma associated with mental healthcare facilities.
Through this programme, 4000 persons have received counselling and therapeutic interventions, and psychiatric consultation enabling them to work through stress, distress, mental illness and psychosocial disabilities.