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Walking towards hope

R Sriram Srinivas, who has multiple disabilities—mental retardation and spastic diplegia—takes a breather during his yoga session at home. P Settu, his yoga therapist, who has been teaching Sriram two years now, says that Sriram used to be inattentive and restless, but now follows instructions well and has mellowed down significantly.  



Images and text by Naveen P M

Walking towards hope (2/9)

M Vanitha, Sriram's teacher, helps Sriram wear his dance apparel before the start of the 'World Differently Abled Day Cultural Programme' at Don Guanella Special School in Chennai. Due to Sriram's condition, simple tasks such as putting on clothes can become a chore and he often ends up needing some assistance. 


Walking towards hope (3/9)

Sriram rides his bicycle—fitted with a custom-made backrest—flanked by special education teacher, G V Arumugam. Arumugam has known Sriram for 15 years and was initially hired to teach him basic reading and writing skills. On Sriram's parents' request, he started to assist Sriram in walking and then taught him how to ride a bicycle so he could improve his muscle tone. 

Read Sriram's story here


Walking towards hope (4/9)

R Devi helps Sriram read a clock at Sai Sri Ram Training Centre. Sriram has difficulty reading and writing even basic words, and has a hard time grasping universal concepts such as time, date, and money. Devi is Sriram's favorite teacher. Sai Sri Ram Training Centre has eight students with special needs, two teachers, and a domestic help. The school functions from 10 am to 3 pm and keeps the students busy with a plethora of activities such as coloring, computer games, and yoga.


Walking towards hope (5/9)

M R Karthik, physical trainer, subjects Sriram to one of the many "balancing exercises" to improve his balance and correct his "scissor gait". Karthik has been training Sriram for the last two years. "In the beginning, Sriram could hardly stand for a minute on his own and displayed a lot of traits commonly seen in persons with Intellectual Disability (ID), such as lack of eye contact, droning, drooling...," says Karthik.

Read Sriram's story here


Walking towards hope (6/9)

Sriram and his classmates from Sai Sri Ram Training Centre perform to a medley of Bollywood songs at the 'World Differently Abled Day Cultural Programme' held in Don Guanella Special School, Chennai. P Dharani Kumar, a professional choreographer, composed the dance moves for this performance. He visits the school every weekend to teach dance to these students. "Sriram usually has trouble recollecting and executing my dance moves but he stepped his game up through some spontaneous moves," he said. 

Read Sriram's story here

Walking towards hope (7/9)

Sriram is ecstatic after receiving a silver medal for the Standing Long Jump event. His driver, D Alvin (right), and Sriram's mother, R Vanitha, gather around to congratulate him, at the Special Olympics Sports Meet held on YMCA Grounds, Chennai. Sriram shares a special bond with Alvin and the two can often be seen engaging in healthy banter. 


Walking towards hope (8/9)

Sriram does a lap of backstroke at The League Club, Chennai. His parents introduced him to swimming at the age of seven after a doctor suggested hydropathy as treatment. Sriram has been training under U Sathish Kumar, swim coach for children with special needs, for one year now. Sriram won four gold medals in as many events at two swim meets for para-athletes held last year in Tamil Nadu.


Walking towards hope (9/9)

Dr J Paul Devasagayam, Area Director, Special Olympics Bharat, Tamil Nadu, reviews Sriram Srinivas's progress with his mother, R Vanitha, during one of their monthly meetings at his 100-square-foot office in Purasawalkam, Chennai.


Are you feeling mentally healthy?

Take a moment to understand what mental wellbeing means
By Dr S Kalayanasundram

Positive mental health and mental wellbeing are often used synonymously. Wellbeing is more than just happiness. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as a state of wellbeing in which every individual realizes their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community.

What indicates that we are in good mental health? It starts with understanding and accepting ourselves the way we are. Only this can pave the way for realizing what we are capable of and improving to reach that potential. Mental wellbeing does not imply that one is positive and happy all the time. It means being resilient; having the ability to bounce back and stand up each time one faces a setback in life. 

Mental wellbeing cannot be achieved in isolation. Our interpersonal interaction influences wellbeing as much as it relates to positive feelings about ourself. It is important to acknowledge ourself and the role that significant others play in us staying healthy mentally, as well as physically. This dignity that we accord to ourself and receive in return is crucial to mental wellbeing.

A severe and chronic mental illness can impose limitations on one’s lifestyle. Mental wellbeing also means acknowledging and overcoming such challenges with one’s dignity intact. The following case illustrates this.

Sriram, 52, has had a severe form of schizophrenia for twenty-five years. His initial symptoms appeared when he was pursuing his doctorate in Chemical Engineering in the USA. Suspicion and voices were constantly commenting on his actions and threatening him and as a result, crippling his movements. Unable to bear this, he returned to India, totally dysfunctional and housebound. After initiating psychiatric treatment and continuing with it, he showed a gradual and steady improvement, and started to put his life together. He failed to get a suitable job in the industry, but found a job as a lecturer in an engineering college. He got married. He slowly began to get his self-confidence and dignity back, with constant support from his wife and family. He is still on medication and has occasional flashes of symptoms that last a brief period, but today he is able to walk with his head held high, having persisted and conquered a devastating illness.

After being diagnosed with a severe mental disorder, Sriram identified and managed the problem with professional help. But even in the absence of severe issues, we need to take care of our mental health. Often, when caught up in the daily grind, we lose touch with our inner self and do not stop to think about ourselves – it could be simple things like what makes us happy, sad or angry, what lifts us up. Before we know it, our stresses and strains take over and take a toll on our physical health. Unfortunately, we are tuned to sit up and take notice only when our physical wellbeing is compromised. Most often, we ignore the warning signs of mental ill health, to our own peril.

There are warning signs that we need to notice. These are: an increasing sense of unhappiness and discontent with ourself or things around us, feeling negative and diffident, not deriving a sense of enjoyment, wanting to disengage or isolate ourself from people and events around us, feeling unduly anxious or panicky without any ostensible reason, to name a few.

How do we ensure that we stay mentally well?

  • By keeping ourself busy, physically and mentally
  • Maintaining a healthy balance between work and family life
  • Taking up activities that we enjoy doing (such as a sport or hobby)
  • Being in the company of people who make us feel valued and positive
  • Experiencing the joy of sharing and giving (e.g., volunteering to help those who are less privileged
  • Being self aware - being aware of what we feel, think, do and enjoy

Dr S Kalayanasundram is a Bangalore based psychiatrist and the CEO of The Richmond Fellowship Society (India).

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