Antara is the Bengali word for mind or mental. It is also the name for a psychiatric center headquartered on the outskirts of Kolkata, one of India’s largest cities. Stepping onto the grounds of Antara’s headquarters it is understandable why this is a place of healing for those with mental illness and chemical dependency. The buildings on the 2.5 plus acre compound are surrounded by lush green foliage. The air is clean and filled with the sounds of birds singing, which is a stark contrast to the pollution and car horns that fill the air in downtown Kolkata.
Antara began in 1971 in response to the increasing numbers of mentally ill people on the streets due to war, political unrest, and a dearth of mental health care in the city. Leaders in the community, including Mother Teresa, banded together to form this non governmental organization with a mission to provide shelter, treatment, and rehabilitation for the homeless and very poor suffering from mental illness, drug, and alcohol addiction. Today, Antara provides inpatient and outpatient services to over 1400 clients at it’s headquarters and satellite clinics. Additionally there are residential and nonresidential rehabilitation programs offered. All services are free of charge to the destitute and provided on a sliding scale to others.
Unlike the United States, none of the adult wards are coed. On the Antara campus separate building exist for the men’s wards and the women’s wards. The women’s building also houses a pediatric ward. Like the United States though, Antara utilizes milieu therapy. Staff and patients dine together at the canteen, which serves 400 people, three times a day. During an adult patients stay they have the option of working and learning a vocation in a variety of areas including agriculture, art, printing, and tailoring. Patients are paid for their work in tokens that can be redeemed at the onsite store. Products produced through their work either supply the canteen with food or are marketed through Antara Products.
There is a huge amount of stigma surrounding mental illness in India, but Antara Products combined with the educational programs and cultural programs offered to the community by Antara are increasing awareness and reducing stigma. The comprehensive services Antara provides are unique and a source of healing and education; not only for the men, women, and children directly impacted by mental illness, but for the community at large.