Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why would a mother burn her daughter?

A family tragedy was played out through a small article in the Pune news. In a fit of rage a mentally ill woman set her daughter alight while she was asleep. The narrative was short and the item tucked into one of the inner pages under a largish headline.
 This was the reason - the why - mental illness
World Health Report 2001
 A glib explanation for a horrific event lays the entire burden of its causation at the doors of a mental health disorder. The World Health Organisation  (WHO) has estimated that one in four persons will have a mental health disorder at some stage of life .

Violence is rarely a manifestation of mental illness
In this rare cause of burning (mental illness), the burning of her daughter is an indicator of the severity of the mother's mental illness. Yet society, of which this news item is a barometer, has unquestioningly accepted mental illness as a sufficient cause. In a nation with about 0.48 mental health workers of any kind  for every 100,000 people, a woman who had previously managed to access mental health care slips through the organisational net and goes on to seriously injure her own daughter. A family that had against overwhelming odds obtained mental health care for a loved one could not mobilise the resources to access it again when her illness escalated. Ease of access to mental health care is crucial. Why?
Common mental illnesses are effectively treated with medication
Most people with mental illness achieve control over their behaviour and impulses. The cost of treatment with standard and effective medication is less than Rs5-10/day. The social costs of mental illness is the major barrier, keeping those needing care from seeking it. The other barrier is institutional, keeping those seeking care from getting it. This mother could not cut through the social and institutional barriers to obtain that care. That is why a mother burnt her daughter.


  1. Hello Neville,

    Glad to see your blog. The incident is shocking and the percentage of mental health workers in India is apalling.

  2. Thanks Amita
    The effective way forward would be to broaden the delivery base to include trained primary care health workers. Just as is done for any of the other common physical illnesses.

  3. Hi,
    Though the number of health workers is appalling what is more disheartening is that any attempt to reachout as a professional is such an upstream exercise.Moreover, a young enthusistic psychologist gets no help from the ones who are already established. Why are psychiarists and psychologists so insecure and loath to share their resources and their knowledge!!! How about setting up an association/ network in Pune where one can keep in touch,discuss cases,share resources,hold seminars,........the possibilities are endless!!! Will you take the initiative doc???

  4. Mitu the necessary knowledge and resources are all in the public domain. Also, the Pune Psychiatric Society (PPS) meets quite regularly. But, definitely we can all do more. Email me and we'll see how to take this further.