Focus on Rehab of Mentally-ill: Dr. Sarada Menon
History of psychiatry in India cannot be written without hailing Dr Sarada Menon’s contributions. One of India’s most distinguished specialists in psychiatry, Dr Sarada has been honoured with many awards including the Padmabhushan and four lifetime achievement awards.
The latest honour is the Avvaiyar Award instituted by the Tamil Nadu government, which was announced on March 2 by the Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, a few days ahead of International Women’s Day (March 8).
Speaking on the scenario in the treatment of mentally ill patients in the country, Dr Sarada said, “A lot of work is being done to improve the condition of the patients, especially those living with the acute stage of illness. They are being improved so that they can be managed in the community. But not enough attention and importance is given to the subject of rehabilitation. It is of utmost importance to see that the patient mental state is restored to his or her original state, so that they can live a fruitful life with family, and also be included socially in the best possible manner.”
Further, she explains that the people with mental illnesses are not getting the attention and respect they deserve. “Though much has been done, and a lot of progress has been made since I first took my training in NIMHANS in 1957, there is still a lacuna, especially in improving awareness among professionals, families and the medical fraternity including psychiatrists,” she rued.
She stressed the importance of weaving clinical practice into the field of psychiatry so that every doctor understands the importance of this specialty while practicing. “But it’s possible only if we start work right at the bottom — from the classrooms where we teach students,” explained Dr Sarada.
Sharing the happiness over the award, she said the undergraduate curriculum on the issue of stigma attached to this profession must be improved. “Further, the internships of medical students have to include a stint in psychiatry. Students of Class 12 should be taught the importance of psychology and the relationship between neurology, psychiatry and psychiatric illnesses. This will go a long way in bringing psychology closer to neurology, and remove the stigma that still exists among medical professionals,” she opined
Born in Mangalore on 5 April 1923, Dr Sarada moved to Chennai when her father, a judge, was posted here. She finished MBBS in 1947 from Madras Medical College and completed training in Delhi and Andhra Pradesh. She joined the Madras Medical Service in 1951. Within a couple of years, she completed MD and in 1957, she completed a two-year specialisation course in psychiatry at NIMHANS, Bangalore, graduating as the first woman psychiatrist in India.
Dr Sarada served the Institute of Mental Health for 17 years where she introduced many reforms. She is also the founder of SCARF — Schizophrenia Care and Research Foundation in 1984 for the aftercare and rehabilitation of people with mental illness.