A room with a view

Published: September 7, 2010

Caravan of Life’s Recovery House will offer Karachi one of its first long-term facilities for psychiatric patients. design: eSSA malik

KARACHI: People suffering from psychiatric conditions will have access to a long-term residential facility in Karachi from Nov 1.

Caravan of Life (CoL) is a non-profit family organisation, which includes Caravan of Life USA and Caravan of Life Pakistan Trust. Its mission is to bring to Pakistan a psychiatric rehabilitation model, as opposed to a medical model in which patients are treated by medication alone.

The organisation started five years ago in the US but has operations in Karachi as well.  CoL USA uses the resources of the University of Medicine and Dentistry’s School of Health Related Professions in New Jersey to provide an academic programme for mental health institutions to help train professionals. CoL Pakistan Trust provides a direct service to clients through The Recovery House project with the help of consultancy services from Thresholds, in Chicago.

“Mental health is not a priority in Pakistan,” CoL’s founder president Shaheen Sultan Ahmed told The Express Tribune. She feels that since mental illnesses cannot be seen, they instigate a “fear of the unknown” and hence become a taboo.

Such conditions should, in fact, be given as much importance as others because they not only affect the patient but the people surrounding him or her, she added.

The organisation is contributing to the cause through academic training and direct services as well.

The Karawan-e-Hayat institution in Keamari is a 100-bed mental health facility and CoL USA’s first project. A group of experts from the US, who are part of CoL’s board, provide free training to the staff at this institution.

Ahmed hopes that with Karawan-e-Hayat, they will develop a perfect model of psychiatric rehabilitation so that other similar institutions can either approach CoL for training or copy their model.

In May this year, CoL started its first programme for direct services through its Recovery House.

The Recovery House currently includes a day treatment programme in which nine patients spend their day at the centre. Patients start their day with a yoga class to make sure they are physically active. Then they spend some time in group sessions, learning computer skills, pottery and other creative exercises.

A team of experts at the centre also teaches coping and social skills to the patients. The Illness Management and Recovery Initiative, an educational process whereby patients are taught strategies for dealing with their conditions, is also included in the day plan.

“Our philosophy is person-centred,” Ahmed asserted. “Every patient has his or her individual treatment plan so there is no time frame for the entire treatment.”

Another CoL Pakistan initiative is a residential facility at the centre. “The residential home is just like a home but it is structured,” Ahmed pointed out, adding that patients will spend their day on the basis of a proper schedule with assessments every six months.

According to Ahmed, all their patients must be on medication so that their symptoms are under control. Families are also required to undergo training along with the patient. If a patient learns something during the six hours they spend at the house, they will lose it at home unless the family is trained to behave in a certain way.

What many people may consider routine activities, often seem like a difficult task to these patients, said Ahmed. Many conditions surface in the late teen years, so patients lose out on very crucial years. “We help them seek their goals, differentiate between realistic and unrealistic ones and then train them to achieve their desires,” she said. Goals may vary between wanting to complete college or going back to work to starting their own paan shop.

Ahmed’s vision is to make the organisation self-sustainable so that they do not have to go repeatedly to the same donors. “We will charge a fee for providing psychiatric rehabilitation because we have limited funds as well,” she said.

“When we treat diabetic patients in a normal manner, why should we treat mentally ill patients any different,” Ahmed asks. “It is not their fault that there [may be] a chemical imbalance in their mind.”

Published in The Express Tribune, September 7th, 2010.

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