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The Banyan

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The Banyan
FoundersVandana Gopikumar and Vaishnavi Jayakumar
  • Chennai, India
Area served
Mental Health, Homelessness, Poverty
ServicesMental Health Care

The Banyan is a non-governmental organization based in Chennai, India was founded in 1993 by Vandana Gopikumar and Vaishnavi Jayakumar to cater to the mentally ill and homeless women in the city. Over the past two decades, has expanded to offer a range of comprehensive mental health solutions for men and women who are either homeless, or living in a state of abject poverty.

This includes emergency care and critical time interventions offered across 2 hospital based settings, and one shelter for homeless persons with psychosocial disabilities, operated in collaboration with the Corporation of Chennai under the National Urban Livelihoods Mission (NULM), reaching out to 162 individuals in distress at any given point of time. Over 3400 individuals have accessed these services since 1993.

The Banyan's NALAM programme offers well-being oriented outpatient clinics and community based mental health care in both urban and rural areas. These clinics provide free of charge and mental health and social care services, address distress, common mental disorders and severe mental disorders. They are offered across 15 service access points, reaching out to a population of approximately 7 lakhs. NALAM has reached out to over 10,000 individuals and has a current active registry of 2000 individuals.

For those who experience high support needs, The Banyan offers a range of inclusive living options, over 200 individuals with moderate to severe mental health issues, today live in communities & homelike environments with supportive services across 6 districts in 3 States (Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra).

The Banyan's sister organisation - The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health (BALM), was founded in 2007, and works towards consolidating findings and experiences from The Banyan, and disseminating it across multiple stakeholders within the mental health and development spaces. BALM works on building practice based evidence and contributing to a knowledge base, that aids in addressing treatment and care gaps, particularly in the context of vulnerable individuals and groups. It uses capacity building, education programmes (diploma, masters’, and PhD programmes) in collaboration with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), research, collaborative work (with civil society organisations, local governments, disability movements, mental health user-caregiver groups, and Central and State Government) and construction of think tanks, as strategies to influence progressive policies and plans.


An inclusive and humane world that promotes capabilities, equity and justice.


Enabling access to health and mental health care for persons living in poverty and homelessness through comprehensive creative clinical and social care approaches embedded in a well being paradigm. The needs of those who live in the margins are our collective responsibility.


Trichy Chapter

The Banyan's chapter in Trichy is led by a pair of sisters, who have experienced homelessness, poverty and mental illness first hand. One of the sisters was rescued by The Banyan several years ago, and after recovering was able to find her way back home. Their personal experiences gave them the passion to form a chapter of The Banyan in their home community in Kovandakurichi (Trichy).

They have built a programme that provides long-term care for 32 women through the Home Again approach.

Kerala Chapter

The Banyan's Kerala Chapter is led by Mr. Salih PM, a social worker and social entrepreneur who has been with The Banyan for over 10 years. He leads a team of 10 mental health professionals that run our Kerala Chapter, currently housing 22 residents through the Home Again programme.

In Kerala, The Banyan is also working in collaboration with Tata Institute of Social Sciences, The Hans Foundation and The Government of Kerala on reorienting the social architecture of institutional mental health care. The project, known as "Snehakoodu"[1] aims to identify long-stay patients in the government mental health centres in Trissur, Trivandrum and Calicut and facilitate their return to their homes or into inclusive living long-term care options, such as the Home Again program.

Maharashtra Chapter

The Banyan chapter in Maharashtra is a collaboration with Tata Institute of Social Sciences Field Action Programme and the Integrated Rural Health and Development Project, Tata Trusts and the Government of Maharashtra. The project entails the facilitation of exit pathways out of institutionalised care for persons who have been incarcerated within mental health facilities for extended periods of time.


Emergency Care and Recovery Services

The Banyan rescues homeless individuals with mental illness through referrals and calls. They have 2 hospital based settings that service women and one shelter for homeless men with psychosocial needs run in collaboration with the corporation of Chennai. Combined, these locations serve around 150 individuals at a time.

The Government of Tamil Nadu - National Health Mission plans to set up multiple new emergency care and recovery centres for individuals with mental illness, both those who are homeless and those who are not. The Banyan will act as capacity building partners on this project, and will also share the protocols and values of their emergency care and recovery services, so that they will be replicated in these new centres.[2]

Reintegration & Aftercare

The Banyan works with police and local organisations to help their clients reconnect with their families after they have gotten better. They conduct home visits and educate family members on illness management prior to reintegrating the client.

The aftercare programme ensures continuity of care after an individual has returned home. It functions through a coalition of civil society organisations, Government agencies, and individual functionaries (community health workers/peer advocates and activists) with capabilities to offer integrated mental health and social care interventions. Besides access to medical and psychological/counselling support, social care facilitation such as problem solving, work placement, access to social entitlements and local community support circles are also essential components of our aftercare programme.

NALAM: Wellbeing oriented outpatient care

The Banyan's NALAM programme is a well-being oriented, community based mental health care programme driven by grassroots workers who offer multi-tiered, multi-interventional packages of mental health care, that range from tracking progress on symptom reduction and securing economic stability, to pursuing personal aspirations. This programme exists across both rural and urban sites, servicing a population of over 1 million across 3 States (Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Maharashtra) and 6 districts through 17 mental health service access points. To date - 10,000 clients have accessed these services, and over 800 children access the youth clubs, pre-adolescent workshops, and tuition centres offered through this same programme.


NALAM Urban serves predominantly low-income areas in the Greater Chennai City Area and has cultivated a grassroots presence across all of the wards (Mogappair, Padi, Padiputhunagar, KK Nagar, Jafarkhanpet, West Saidapet, Choolaimedu, Santhome and Teynampet) it works in.

The urban clinics are located in Chennai across these locations:

  • Loyola College (Nungambakkam)
  • The State Training and Resource Center (KK Nagar)
  • Stella Maris College (Cathedral Road)
  • Shelter for Homeless Men (Santhome)
  • Emergency Care and Recovery Center (Mogappair West)


NALAM Rural offers inpatient and outpatient programmes that address clinical and social care needs of individuals in need. The NALAM community mobilisers also engage in innovative mental health awareness programmes across local NGOs, youth groups, PHCs and MGNREGs sites.

Outreach clinics are co-located with Government run spaces, such as the Government Primary Health Centre, and the Panchayat office. This is in an attempt to work alongside the Government machinery, and support the implementation of the Government District Mental Health Programme (DMHP).

The rural clinics are located in Kanchipuram districts across these locations:

This approach will soon be replicated in collaboration with The Government of Tamil Nadu as a means to strengthen the District Mental Health Programme (DMHP)

Inclusive Living Options

For individuals who require long-term care, The Banyan offers supportive care inclusive living long term options. These programmes encourage social inclusion and currently almost 300 individuals are residing in these projects.

Clustered Group Homes

The Banyan's Clustered Group Home is a pseudo-institutional long-term care home. In it, about 50 women reside across 8 cottages, where women live, work and support one another while contributing to their home and space. In this setting support is provided to address complex long-term physical, psychological and economic needs of the clients. The women who live here spend their days pursuing work and vocational training as well as recreation and leisure activities of their choice. The Clustered Group Home is co-located with the BALM-TISS, a college that offers capacity building masters’, PhD and diploma programs in mental health.

Home Again

Home Again is a model of care, for individuals with mental illness who require long-term care that fosters choice based, inclusive living spaces through clustered or scattered homes in rural or urban neighbourhoods with a range of supportive services for people. Through this programme's model, individuals form affinity groups and live together in homes in a community. Together they create a shared space of comfort that mimics a familial environment. Every house of three to five women is staffed by a community worker who facilitates the psychosocial and medical intervention they continue to need and the women are encouraged to engage in a diverse range of work, and embrace leisure, recreation and socialization with the community. This programme is currently active in Tamil Nadu (Chennai, Kovalam & Trichy), Kerala (Mallapuram), and has been implemented in Assam through a partner organisation, Ashadeep.

The Banyan is currently part of a collaborative project (along with Tata Institute of Social Sciences, The Hans Foundation and The Government of Kerala) in Kerala to facilitate exit options for long-stay patients in government run mental health centres. Many of the long-stay patients who will be identified through this project will be transferred to Home Again homes within Kerala.[1]

Skills Development

At The Banyan, vocational training and work placement is offered across three verticals - arts & crafts (wire and jute products, carpentry, tailoring etc.), hospitality services (housekeeping, beauty services, laundry, waitstaff etc.), and healthcare (personal assistants, community based mental health workers, peer advocates, programme managers etc.)

The organisation holds income enhancement and vocational independence as significant factors of importance when it comes to personal recovery. In addition to internal work placements and vocational training, The Banyan also has ties with external organisations to facilitate employment outside of the organisation. They also offer clients small and medium scale grants to federate social cooperatives. 60% of their clients are gainfully employed and productive in work.


The Banyan and its founders have acquired several accolades since 1993, including the WHO Public Health Champion Award (India), 2017,[3] The Sat Paul Mittal National Award (2007)[4] and University of Pennsylvania Nursing Renfield Foundation Award for Global Women's Health (2018)[5] among others.


  1. ^ a b "These Kerala rehabilitation homes help people with mental illness integrate into society". The News Minute. 2018-03-11. Retrieved 2018-05-25.
  2. ^ Hamid, Zubeda (2017-09-16). "NHM to set up five mental healthcare and recovery centres". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 2018-05-25.
  3. ^ "WHO India honours Public Health Champions". South-East Asia Regional Office. Retrieved 2018-08-22.
  4. ^ "Welcome to Nehru Sidhant Kender Trust". Retrieved 2018-08-22.
  5. ^ "Vandana Gopikumar, a co-founder of a Chennai-based NGO to get Penn Nursing Renfield Award". The New Indian Express. Retrieved 2018-08-22.
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