Celebrating our Silver Jubilee

In August of 1993, two young women, who were getting their Master’s degrees at the time, walked out of their college campus, in Central Chennai, and were confronted with a painful sight. A distressed, half-naked woman, surrounded by the mob of students exiting the college, was in tears and clearly experiencing a psychotic episode.

These women, one of whom was gaining a degree in Medical and Psychiatric Social Work, and the other in Business Administration, were struck by this sight and attempted to find the woman help. They took her to multiple institutions and organisations, all of whom noted that they were not trained or equipped to treat a homeless individual with a mental health issue. They finally found an NGO that would admit her, but she went missing again just a week later. This was no fault of the NGO, they did not have the human resources or training to care for someone with a severe mental health issue.

This incident inspired the two women, Vandana Gopikumar and Vaishnavi Jayakumar to take action. Thus, The Banyan was created.

Twenty-five years later, The Banyan celebrated its Silver Jubilee on July 21st 2018 at the Sheraton Grand Resort & Spa. The event was presented by AMARA Homes, and co-sponsored by Sathyabama Institute of Science and Technology.

From left to right: Mr. Amarnath Reddy (Board Member), Mrs. Swetha Reddy, Dr. Vandana Gopikumar (Founder), Revathy (Actress), Ms. Vaishnavi Jayakumar (Founder), Mr. Balraj Vasudevan (Managing Trustee)

Over the years, hundreds of individuals from a variety of fields and walks of life have partnered with, volunteered with and supported The Banyan – and this event stood as an occasion to thank our donors, patrons and supporters.

The celebration, attended by over 300 individuals, was MCed by Ranvir Shah, Founder-Trustee of the Prakriti Foundation along with Revathy, renowned Tamil actress – both of whom are long time supporters and friends of The Banyan. They both shared anecdotes about their engagement with our organisation, and spoke about the importance of speaking up about mental health issues in public spheres.

Mr. Ranvir Shah (Founder of Prakriti Foundation) and Actress Revathy 

The evening began with a panel discussion on a brand new book: The Psychological Impact of The Partition on India, written by prominent psychiatrists Dr. Alok Sarin and Dr. Sanjeev Jain. The dialogue was led by N. Ram, Chairman of the Hindu Group, and an interactive discussion was had regarding the social & psychological impact that the partition had on the psyche of India.

Dr. Sanjeev Jain (NIMHANS), Mr. N. Ram (The Hindu Group), Dr. Alok Sarin (Sitaram Bhartia Hospital) 

Next, author Aparna Jain sat down with Justice Prabha Sridevan to discuss a new children’s book that she released, Like A Girl.  This illustrated children’s book contains inspiring, heroic & resilient stories of strong Indian women from all over the country. Ms. Jain spoke about how the book created an avenue for parents to talk to their children about difficult issues at a young age. She concluded the session by reading one of the stories from the book – the story of none other than our very own, Vandana and Vaishnavi.

Ms. Aparna Jain (Author of Like a Girl) and Justice Prabha Sridevan

Vijay Narayan (Attorney General, Tamil Nadu) and the health secretary J Radhakrishnan discussed how public-private partnerships are crucial to addressing the state of mental health in the country. He spoke of The Banyan’s partnerships with state governments and how their inclusive living options have given those with long term mental illness the chance of a life outside of institutions. The Banyan’s models of care were discussed on a panel that included our director, Dr. KV Kishore Kumar, Lt. Gen S Mehta, CEO of The Hans Foundation and Dr. Jerome D’Souza from Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives. Both of these organisations are donor-partners of The Banyan. The effectiveness of these models and ways in which they can be taken to scale through both government and private investment were discussed.

Mr. J Radhakrishnan (Health Secretary, Tamil Nadu), Mr. Ranvir Shah, Mr. Vijay Narayan (Attorney General, Tamil Nadu)

Dr. Nachiket Mor, a long time volunteer and supporter of The Banyan spoke about his journey with The Banyan and BALM. He also spoke about his experiences working in the health sector, as the National Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (India).

Dr. Nachiket Mor (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)

This was followed by the screening of a short film, put together by Roshni Chandran and Primary Colours. This film featured the stories of individuals who have received services from The Banyan. It gave audience members a  glimpse into the resilient lives of the individuals we have, and continue to reach out to.

Not only was this event an opportunity for The Banyan to celebrate its Silver Jubilee, but it was also the launch of a new organisation, founded by Vandana Gopikumar – The Other Identity Foundation. This foundation aims to build awareness through sharing the stories of those who have experienced distress, loss, pain and mental health issues. OIF aims to highlight the vulnerabilities of individuals, but also the power of resilience and hope in personal recovery. A photobook, “The Other Identity”, was unveiled to mark this occasion. Mr. Akhileshwary Sahay, a writer, mental health user-survivor and activist , and Porselvi, a healthcare worker at The Banyan both briefly spoke about their experiences with mental illness and were presented with copies of “The Other Identity” photobook.

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The evening concluded on a colourful note, with a stunning performance by Shruti Haasan, actress and singer, who shared original spoken word, performed her own songs as well as covers. Ms. Haasan, who has herself experienced anxiety, is a long time supporter of The Banyan, and decided that she would show her support by sharing some of her music and poetry.


The HCL Foundation & The Banyan: Building strong communities & foundations of support

By: Akshita Vaidyanathan & Mrinalini Ravi

The Banyan has maintained a partnership with the HCL Foundation for the past 6 years. Due to their support,  The Banyan has been able to initiate and maintain innovative projects across both urban and rural sites in Tamil Nadu.

Changing attitudes through open shelters




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The building where our Shelter for Men with Psychosocial Needs operates,  was originally a primary school that was converted into 2010 into a night shelter for homeless persons with mental health issues by the Corporation of Chennai; against much resistance from the community.

 In 2012, The Banyan took over the executive responsibilities of the shelter. With financial support from The HCL Foundation,  we decided to challenge traditional notions of institutional spaces. It was an exciting opportunity to build a truly open model of community mental health care in an urban setting. This was however, not an easy task. Through individual and group sessions, we were able to create a non-threatening environment for these concerns to be shared, and for residents to step out into the community on their own terms.

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Creating safety nets – building community mental health partnerships in Kerala

Kalyani* is a mother of three living with her daughter, and granddaughter. Although she is 80 years old, Kalyani still holds the responsibility of taking care of her family. Her daughter experiences paranoid delusions, and due to the severity of her illness, is unable to work, or help with household chores, her husband left many years ago unwittingly consigning Kalyani with the onus of caring for her mentally ill daughter.

Through a spell of bad luck, Kalyani’s grand daughter, Seeta*, met with a head injury that led her to develop psychotic symptoms, similar to her mother. Her delusions became so bad that she believed that if she even opened her eyes, she would die. Kalyani, at the age of 80, stepped up and found treatment for her granddaughter at a private facility. However, this facility was very far away  from their home, and expensive. The monthly injections that Seeta received did wonders for her symptoms, but cost more than Kalyani could afford. After losing support from her other son, she had to resort to begging. She wished that there was an option that was closer to her home and more affordable for her family.

When a team from The Banyan arrived at Kalyani’s home in February to explain how a new and free outpatient clinic, run in collaboration  with The Ottapalam Welfare Trust and Mehac Foundation was to be available only a few minutes away from her home,

“Just yesterday, I went to the Vishnu temple nearby to pray that I would find the money for my grand daughter’s next doctor’s visit, and here you are today, telling me that I can now access services in my own neighbourhood, you must be Vishnu” said Kalyani.

“No, no, I’m not Vishnu. I’m from The Banyan!” said our programme manager, Salih who heads the Kerala Chapter.

Continue reading “Creating safety nets – building community mental health partnerships in Kerala”

Women’s Day @ The Banyan

On March 8th 2018, Women’s Day was celebrated across our projects with vigour, enthusiasm and passion.

At our Emergency Care and Recovery Centre, we were honoured to have Ms. V Rukmani Priyadarshini, the Superintendent of Puzhal Prison as our special guest. We began the programme with a prayer song, after which some of our long-term residents shared what Women’s day meant to them. Ms. Rukmani shared a story and motivated our clients and residents to do the same.

Clients shared their experiences; stories of hardship, struggle and resilience. These women described what their journey at The Banyan has been like, and how they feel that their lives had been transformed. They expressed their gratitude towards members of the staff that they look up to. The health care workers at the ECRC also were given the opportunity to speak about their jobs, many expressed that the work they are able to do gives meaning to their lives. The event culminated with a presentation of awards, as a token of appreciation, to our clients to celebrating their commendable traits and hard work.

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UPenn Nursing Fellow’s time at The Banyan

Alison Ercole, a psychiatric nurse from the University of Pennsylvania spent the last 3 months at The Banyan as a Global Nursing Fellow, here’s what she had to say about her time with us and what she accomplished:

I have been honoured to study and work at The Banyan over the past 3 months. I am the Global Nursing Fellow at The University of Pennsylvania and came to The Banyan help incorporate nursing concepts into the Diploma in Community Mental Health Programme offered by The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health, that trains many of the NALAM Community Mobilisers that work for The Banyan.

Alison Ercole, Global Nursing Fellow from UPenn led a training session for the NALAM community mobilisers at The Banyan

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