The change in discussion on mental health, is something that didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot more than we see or know of. It took the need to talk about it and actually do something. Dr M. Sarada Menon is one of those people, who took charge – for bringing a change in the way society views mental health patients and talks about mental health.
She was India’s first woman psychiatrist, social worker and also the founder of Schizophrenia Research Foundation, a Chennai-based non-governmental organization. Her work also inspired psychiatrists and created a better environment for patients with mental health issues.
It was her final year in MBBS, when the students were taken to a local mental hospital – and what she saw led to her decision of studying mental health as a sub-field. The patients were not looked at with empathy or treated properly. There was hardly any proper attention devoted to them.
She then decided to specialize in psychiatry and obtained her diploma from The National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences, Bengaluru in 1959. At the time few women took up this course, or were even allowed to pursue this course. But it was her can-do spirit and empathy that made her choose this path.
Dr M. Sarada Menon later joined the Kilpauk Mental Hospital and was appointed the Superintendent in 1961. From there on, she worked on making reforms not only in the infrastructure but also in mental health care – being with her patients and speaking with the families was one part of it. She also stressed on the need for working on psychosocial rehabilitation.
Dr M. Sarada Menon passed away on December 5, 2021. She has several accolades to her name including the Padma Bhushan and the Avvaiyar award from the Government of Tamil Nadu. These awards didn’t only mean a personal growth for her – but she hoped that they drew more attention to mental health and the need to grow empathy around it.
Dr M. Sarada Menon’s work and life journey was aimed at removing the taboos surrounding mental health. Her actions helped built a better, more sensitive place, and her contribution in the space of mental health can never be forgotten.