Eve Caring Centre in Petaling Jaya provides a cosy home environment to help mental health patients recover and integrate with society.
EVERYTHING is not what it seems at the Eve Caring Centre in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. The cosy little house right across from Assunta Hospital is a picture of serenity with its well-tended garden, graceful carps swimming in a pond, and an aquarium with a beautiful golden dragon fish. You would never guess that this a psychiatric rehabilitation centre with live-in patients.
One of the patients saunters into the hall looking a little lost, a little bashful. But once he is comfortably seated, the young man opens up a little and even asks for my name.
Ang (not his real name) suffers from schizophrenia and paranoia, but now that he is on proper medication, you would not be able to tell him apart from a person who is well. He is articulate and fun to be with, and you have no inkling of his other self until he tells you how he used to be.
“Let’s say I’m having dinner with my family,” says Ang. “I would suddenly run out and take a taxi back to my own place. If I really can’t stand it, I would run away to some other place. I’ve had this problem for 13 years now. It was really frustrating for my father.”
Apart from being paranoid about people wanting to harm him, his mental health problems also led to a gambling habit. Coming from a well-to-do family of medical professionals, Ang did not have any problems getting his father to buy him expensive phones and computers, which he would sell whenever he needed money for gambling.
His father and brother then decided to get him psychiatric help, after which he was sent to Eve Caring Centre for psychiatric rehabilitation. He had a relapse some time later and went back to his gambling ways, and was sent back to the centre. This time, he stayed for more than a year.
Then Ang tells me something rather peculiar.
“They found drugs on me and they found that I’m a pusher,” he says. “I’m really concerned about my court case. I hope I will win the case and all will be settled.”
Later, rehabilitation therapist Jared Jorge David tells me there is no such court case against Ang. It is all part of the hallucinations he has because of paranoia.
This is a common experience when meeting patients at the centre.
“They look and act completely normal when they are on proper medication,” shares Jared. “They are just like any other person.”
Eve Caring Centre is a family venture that aims to provide rehabilitation for those with mental health problems. Patients who have had psychiatric evaluation and are on medication are sent to the centre to help them get back into society.
The centre was started by Jared’s parents, P.G. David and Mary Kutty John. They saw the need for such a place when they encountered children with mental health problems while running a childcare centre in Banting, Klang, back in the 1990s.
When the couple’s children had grown up and moved to Kuala Lumpur, they followed suit and set up a rehabilitation centre for mental health patients with just one rented house in Petaling Jaya. Today, Eve Caring Centre (named after their daughter, Evelina David) comprises four houses: for men, women, the elderly, and a halfway home.
The halfway home is for patients who have recovered and have jobs, but need a place to stay where their medication can be supervised. Many times, the problem starts when a patient is deemed fit to go home, but relapses because he fails to continue his medication at home.
“What we lack in Malaysia is continued care for mental health patients,” says Dr Stephen Jambunathan, a psychotherapist with University Malaya Specialist Centre. “Once a patient’s condition has stabilised, he is discharged, but very often everything is lost because there is no follow-up treatment. What we don’t have is semi-acute follow-up treatment for a couple of months or six months, like what they have in Australia, called the CPU or Community Psychiatric Units.”
Dr Jambunathan is one of the visiting volunteer doctors at Eve Caring Centre.
According to Jared, there are patients who are sent to the centre by their families who can no longer handle the situation by themselves. The patients and their families are then given counselling. There are also instances where a person with mental health problems is pushed aside by their families and neglected.
“I’ve worked on a case where a mother who had no financial problems at all left her son in a drug rehabilitation centre for almost three years,” says Dr Jambunathan. “We told the parents they had to do something about it. Finally they brought the son over for intensive rehabilitation, psychotherapy and medication. Now he even has a job, something we once thought would never happen.”
Then there are also instances where patients are picked off the streets. Due to the severity of their condition, full recovery may not be possible, and they can only be helped to reach the best of their potential.
“We once picked up a lady who was all twisted and shrivelled, and lying in faeces,” says Dr Jambunathan. “No one knew what to do with her, so we took her out of there. Now she has recovered and can talk. She’s 91 years old.”
“Her whole house was in bad condition with lalang everywhere,” adds Jared. “She was a former teacher. We took her in and treated her for free. Now although she can’t walk, she can talk and function better. Her quality of life has improved greatly.”
Many may not be aware of it, but mental health problems can begin at any age.
“People seem to think that mental health issues set in between the ages of 20 and 30,” says Dr Jambunathan. “They fail to recognise that children can start showing symptoms of mental health problems at age six or seven. This problem can blow up years later when the guy ends up in prison. Attention deficit disorder or reading disabilities can eventually lead to mood swings, personality problems or even substance abuse.”
Dr Jambunathan explains that mental illness can be caused by nature or nurture. It can be because of genetic predisposition or the environment they are in.
Take, for example, the case of 36-year-old Amy (not her real name), who comes from a well-to-do entrepreneurial family. She had high fever when she was a child and it affected the development of her brain. At a young age, she started hearing voices. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was a slow learner. Amy has been in the centre for five years now and she says she does not hear voices as often.
Mental illness can strike just about anyone. Jared says the centre has had patients who were doctors, lawyers, architects and accountants.
Vincent (not his real name), 35, is a law graduate who was diagnosed as bipolar and suffered from panic attacks. An affable young man, Vincent spent one-and-a-half months at the centre and has fully recovered. At the time of his illness, he was also undergoing treatment for nose cancer.
“The pressure just got too much,” says Vincent. “I couldn’t handle it and lashed out in anger. At that time I didn’t think that the problem was me. After two to three weeks at the centre, I came to realise that I was wrong about my family. They were actually very loving towards me.”
Now that he is back on track, Vincent hopes to find work as a speech writer or an editor in a publishing house.
Mental healthcare does not come under insurance coverage. The problem is compounded by the fact that good medication is expensive. Currently there is no subsidy for medication for mental healthcare.
“You can see the difference in a patient who is given good medication,” says Jared. “As long as they don’t stop their medication, there is a very high chance of recovery,” says Dr Jambunathan. “It’s just like taking medication to treat diabetes or high blood pressure. It’s just another medical condition.”
This is something that people need to remember – mental illness is just like any other illness that afflicts the body. This one afflicts the mind. Thus people need not fear those who have mental health problems, Jared stresses.
“My grandchildren are always running around the centre,” says Mary. “They are not scared.”
“Sometimes visitors leave their kids in the car because they’re scared,” says Evelina. “They think there might be violent or aggressive behaviour. But the patients are all stable actually.”
“We need to understand them, what is happening inside them,” says Bala Subramaniam, a counselling psychologist at the centre. “
“Once people see that mental health problems are just like any other illnesses, it would take away the stigma. And if we start to show people that these patients can also function in the real world, provided we give them a bit of training and medication, then people will see that it’s not that bad.”