Walk inside any of the facilities for mental illness patients in India, and you are weighed down by the heart-rending stories of desertions by the families of the sufferers. The illness runs deeper into the society.
But in India, the sad commentary does not end only inside the precincts of such government or privately run institutes and homes or care facilities.
Surveys say an estimated 40% of the homeless population in India is affected by the burden of mental illness – living in deplorable conditions on streets.
Citizens with no entitlements and homeless people with mental illness represent a significant portion of people at the margins who are rarely acknowledged in mainstream society or developmental discourses.
In The Banyan, Chennai there is a silver lining. As the name suggests, the organization tries to offer the protective umbrella for the people - women and destitute - suffering from mental illness and are forced to live on the streets of unforgiving cities and towns.
The Banyan works in the sector of mental health care for people affected by poverty and homelessness providing free mental health services at the grassroots in Tamil Nadu, while advocating nationally for their rights.
The Banyan's approach focuses on rehabilitation and consumer empowerment as opposed to traditional institutional and/or clinically focused models.
“Our mission is to enable a meaningful life for people who have lost everything - their home, family, livelihood and identity - due to the devastating effects of mental illness and poverty,” says Swapna Krishnakumar, a senior official of The Banyan.
“Our initiatives are aimed at ensuring for these people – the right to rescue, the right to care, the right to options for their future and the right to life,” she says.
The Banyan runs several projects and initiatives. One of them is ‘Adaikalam’ –The Banyan’s Transit Care Centre for homeless women with mental illness in Chennai.
The NGO says it has changed the dynamics of institutional care and made several innovations in socio medical model of care for mental health. The Project includes Rehabilitation, After Care and Networking services that establish models for rehabilitating people back to communities after successful recovery.
The Banyan runs a Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP). It involves developing a model for providing localized care in both rural and urban contexts. It includes psychiatric services in Kovalam and three urban communities of Chennai, among others.
The Banyan also runs an Urban Mental Health Programme (UMHP). The urban mental health clinic was set up in collaboration with the Loyola College of Social Work in Chennai.
The Banyan and the Sir Ratan Tata Trust collaborate every month to provide a Rs.250 disability allowance to over 400 families suffering from mental illness.
This benefit helps families to sustain care of their loved ones and reduces the financial burden of a family member with mental illness.
According to the NGO, what sets The Banyan apart is that all of its programme curricula are focus on the socio medical model of service delivery that doesn't merely look at symptom reduction through clinical interventions, but at longer term rehabilitation of the sufferers.
Dr. Kishore Kumar, Senior Psychiatrist at NIMHANS who has played a key role in Community Mental Health Care in India, comments: “The Banyan has demonstrated that ordinary people can bring new life for the marginalized without compromising technical, professional and ethical issues of care in their work.”
“Their work elucidates the processes of partnership between governmental and non-governmental agencies (NGOs) in India. I consider this exemplary,” Dr Kumar sums up.
The Banyan is now a member of Samhita and you can acces their profile at http://samhita.org/ngos/the-banyan. If you have a creative bent of mind, you can use your creative skills to raise support for The Banyan by participating in Socially Positive. You can write blogs, design posters, click pictures or make short films to promote the good work that The Banyan does. You also stand a chance to win cash prizes and exciting internships. Click here for details and participating.