New push to help mentally ill aims to ‘unchain’ patients

Depression is the second top cause of death in Thailand, next to heart disease, according to the Association for the Mentally Ill of Thailand (AMITH), which is urging families to seek proper treatment for people who might be affected.

AMITH chairwoman Nutjaree Sawangwan said figures show patients suffering from a mental disorder who do not receive proper treatment could subsequently die from a depressive disorder.

One in 10 people was at risk of developing mental disorders while one in five people were prone to suffer from depression.

Most people have little knowledge about mental disorders. When they fall ill with mental diseases, they are usually afraid to reveal their illness to families or undergo treatment, resulting in a deteriorating condition, she said.

Ms Nutjaree said some conditions were caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain which can be cured by proper drugs and treatment.

Nevertheless, some mental disorder patients are barred from taking part in social activities as most people, who do not understand their illness, are afraid of them. Some patients, even after they recover, also miss out on jobs as employers are reluctant to hire them.

According to Ms Nutjaree’s experience during field trips in rural areas, many mental disorder patients are chained or locked up in their houses as their relatives are afraid they will be teased or harmed by villagers who are ignorant of their condition and are also afraid that they too might be harmed.

The association is working with state agencies to build a better understanding of mental disorders by the public to help “unchain” those patients. This involves encouraging the families of sufferers to provide proper medical treatment and rehabilitation for them so their condition improves and they can live normally.

“Mental illness can be cured. It is not a contagious disease. There is nothing to be afraid of,” Ms Nutjaree said.

Meanwhile, artist Cheewin “Boyd” Kosiyabong, who suffered from depression 10 years ago, said mental illness was a normal condition. If a physical illness can be healed, the mind should be no different, he said.

Writer Kaisri Wisuttipinaet, who was cured after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, said teenage patients who suffered from mental conditions have been forced to leave school and abandon their studies as a result of a misunderstanding about their condition among parents and teachers.

Such teens can feel lonely as a result as as they cannot rely on their relatives, she said. Better public understanding is vital to deal with the problem.

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