Mental health illness is a severe public health problem, and gender barriers make this problem worse as women have to suffer silently. The stigma associated with it makes it all the more difficult for women to come out and seek help.
The unequal power structure between men and women in the private and public sphere including physical violence, socio-economic disadvantage and the stereotypical notions of women being more emotional act as a barrier in proper identification and treatment of mental illness issues.
India struggles with a mental health crisis, with reportedly 60-70 million people suffering from mental disorders and meager national budget allocation towards the mental health illness. As per WHO statistics, mental health workforce in India per 100,000 population include 0.3 psychiatrists, 0.12 nurses, 0.7 psychologists, and 0.07 social workers.
Treatment of mental health requires a comprehensive strategy ranging from the promotion, prevention, treatment and recovery with a particular focus on rehabilitating people especially women with various disorders.
Social inclusion is a big challenge for women as a lack of awareness around mental health issues creates further stigmatization and seclusion. The cases of abandonment are very high in women even after treatment. This requires setting up of robust social, economic and livelihoods support systems so that mental health patients can live a life of dignity and hope.
Around 25 years ago, Vandana Gopikumar and Vaishnavi Jayakumar started The Banyan as a humanistic response to provide shelter to a mentally ill, half-naked woman on the street. With the reluctance of mental health institutions and NGOs to admit the woman, the duo decided to take matters in their own hands.
Over the years The Banyan has turned into a comprehensive care based institution to give a sense of living beyond the illness.
Apart from offering emergency and therapeutic services for homeless people with mental illness, The Banyan also focusses on social inclusion by giving them an identity and opportunity to earn a decent livelihood.
Across rural and urban locations, The Banyan is providing men and women with mental illness diverse work opportunities based on their skill, interest, and aptitude to enhance their social and economic lives.
The Banyan offers skill-based training in making handmade products such as bags, Housekeeping& laundry services, Reception service, Data Centres, Healthcare, Pet care industry, Beauty Care and even brick making amongst others.
Under the banner of The Banyan collective, their residents make handbags, pickles, and healthy bakes and other mouthwatering items.
The Banyan also organizes job fairs to assist employers and people with mental disorders to connect and facilitate placements based on the unique abilities and needs of the people with mental illness.
At The Banyan, whether the woman is a basket weaver, an aspiring chef, block printer or a librarian- they are all bound by a common thread – a thread of hope, pride and respect.