Mental illness remains shrouded in ignorance and misconception. In rural and urban communities sufferers face stigma and discrimination at every turn: from employers, neighbours, friends and even their own family. Taking the form of anything from name calling to exclusion, stigma prevents those with mental illness from addressing their issues personally or seeking help professionally.

Even those that have recovered from mental illness face hardships, with ex-residents of The Banyan reporting difficulties in their community, marriage and family as a result of their being branded, 'mentally ill'. These attitudes are born of lack of knowledge, not experience, and are substantiated by media coverage that portrays the mentally ill in a far from positive light; using imagery that fills in the gaps in people's imagination as to the potential behaviours of someone whom they do not understand or feel that they cannot relate.

Furthermore, as care is often inaccessible it is not promoted as an option. Many do not know or understand the choices available to them, much less have the confidence to seek them out. As a result illnesses continue untreated and exacerbated by the attitudes and prejudice they encounter.

How The Banyan helps

It is essential that each of the projects of The Banyan address the negative images that surround mental illness and engage the public with alternative, evidence based viewpoints that explain and reverse entrenched attitudes. To do this The Banyan is conducts awareness generating activities on various levels.

Awareness Campaigns

The Community Mental Health Projects (CMHP) are both engaged in awareness generating activities. At a local level merely the presence of the clinics, spread by word of mouth, increases awareness and encourages sufferers and families to seek help. On a more direct level, both sides of the project engage with the community at large through continual leaflet drops and a program of street theatre to dispel misunderstandings. They are also involved in liaison and networking with local community members including Panchayati heads, youth leaders and officials with the power to pacify and sympathise with the cause as required.

Education of Families

Residents that are returned to their families have themselves undergone training as to how to deal with stigma they may encounter. When they are returned to their families, their family members are also fully educated about mental illness so they understand the need for medication and their role in the protection of the rehabilitation of the individual.

Community Fostering

In Kovalam, the team has deeper interaction with the community. Through observation of behaviour in the community, the team at the Community Mental Health Project saw that there was natural care occurring for some of the homeless in the village. Initiatives have been implemented that build on and encourage these attitudes, for example, a social worker may enrol a community resident to accompany them and a homeless man to the barbers or for a good meal.

These are steps that begin to change people's attitudes.

Representation of Mental Illness

Clients themselves are an interactive awareness campaign. Their participation in community activities is more of an illustration as to the positive face of mental illness than any campaign. As people understand best through experience and change their opinions only when they are confronted with undeniable evidence, the role of The Banyan's clients is clear; to disprove the stereotypes through their own actions and attitudes.