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.


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

Continue reading “UPenn Nursing Fellow’s time at The Banyan”

Learning Centre Annual Day

By Nabiya Ethiraj – Programme Manager (Outreach) Rural Mental Health Programme

The Rural Mental Health Programme initiated learning centres activities 5 years ago to create a platform for socio – economic transformation through academic support. The RMHP now has 9 learning centres in total, in which 4 centres serve tribal children, 3 serve dalit children and rest serve children from a mixed community. In total  420 children are now accessing services through the RMHP learning centre programme.

2 years ago, we began to have annual day celebrations for our learning centres to celebrate the achievements of these children. On our last two annual days we had sports, arts and cultural competitions. But, what we found was that many children went back home with no prizes,  and other children didn’t come forward to participate in the competitions due to  fear of failure.

So, this year we decided to change our annual day celebrations a little. Instead of having competitions,  we gave the children a chance to think about and come up with programme agenda with both theirs and their teacher’s inputs. Some of the children are very good in art, children from the tribal community are very keen to showcase the traditional foods an herbal remedies (e.g. snake bite remedies). So, it was decided that this year our annual day celebration for the learning centre would include an exhibition to showcase art, herbal remedies and plants,  traditional food stalls and craft works. Continue reading “Learning Centre Annual Day”

A Splash of Colour

The Banyan has always placed its clients at the centre of the therapeutic process. In continuation with that trend, we began working collaboratively to revamp all our centres, to make them more colourful, vibrant and comfortable for our clients.

On March 1st, led by long-time volunteer of The Banyan and world renowned photographer, Christoph Von Toggenburg, we began the #JoyfulBanyan Project.


Colours have a strong impact on the way we feel and perceive the world around us. Research has shown that altering therapeutic environments to make them more vibrant and colourful can have positive psychological impact on residents, particularly in mood. It is critical that residential care centres exude a sense of warmth and friendliness, such that their external surroundings can also facilitate recovery.

Mr. Christoph Von Toggenburg led several discussions with staff, students of The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health (BALM) and residents of The Banyan on what helps them feel more at home and comfortable in a mental health centre.

We reimagined our reception space with bright colours and warm lighting. The students embellished the space with illustrations of nature: radiant birds and lush trees.


Upstairs in our terrace, where many of our clients engage in vocational training on a daily basis, they worked on red bricks were transformed into a polychromatic puzzle.

BALM students put the final touches on the tree
AFTER – The reception
AFTER – The reception
AFTER – Terrace

This project will continue for the next 6 months as we reimagine the spaces across our centres, culminating on World Mental Health Day in October. Considering we are working with the Government as technical advisors for mental health centres, we hope that this is one of many ways by which we can be examples of changing the way built environments in mental health centres are created.


The chief guest of this initiation was renowned celebrity photographer G. VenketRam, a long-time supporter and volunteer of The Banyan. We also announced a brand new social media campaign, #1in4 – telling stories of the fierce and resilient individuals we’ve had the opportunity to know, raising awareness on the plight of homeless individuals with mental health issues who emerge from distress with new found strength and fervour for life.

We invite you to participate in this campaign by sharing your personal experiences, encounters, and viewpoints with homelessness, grit and mental illness with the hashtag #1in4 

You can also participate by volunteering your time to help us with the revamp or through any of our other volunteer drives .

For more information contact Akshita or Mrinalini: akshita@thebanyan.org, mrinalini@thebanyan.org

An Appeal: Help 4 Homeless Men Set Up A Business

Naushad at his makeshift shop outside the Shelter at Santhome

The Banyan is a Chennai based NGO working for persons with mental health concerns, offering a range of services through its different projects. The Banyan, in association with the Corporation of Chennai and the HCL Technologies foundation runs a shelter for homeless men with psychosocial disabilities in Santhome, Chennai.

And this is where we need your help!

Naushad, a resident of the shelter for the last year, has had to endure several hardships to set up his little ‘Recharge Booth’ just outside the shelter. Over the last few months, this booth that Naushad single handedly runs has become the neighborhood hub for all kinds of phone and set-top box recharge. Noticing his keen business acumen, we at the Banyan pushed Naushad to move out of his comfort zone and urged him to realize his potential. In a matter of two weeks, Naushad has found a shop space that he would like to rent, sourced a broken down photo-copier (that needs repair), and is now ready to take on new challenges.

Continue reading “An Appeal: Help 4 Homeless Men Set Up A Business”