Reshma Valliappan

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2014
The Red Door


This profile was prepared when Reshma Valliappan was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.
The New Idea
Reshma is laying the foundation for the creation of role models from among persons living with mental illness, thereby creating a culture where they are able to voice their perspectives and become self-advocates. Drawing from her own experiences as a user-survivor, Reshma is bringing about a paradigm shift in how society perceives and understands mental illness. By building on-line and offline safe spaces for persons living with mental illness to share their stories, reflect on their experiences and choose their own paths to recovery, she is challenging the existing construct of recovery and reinstating persons with mental illness with the agency to carve and manage their well-being. Through this process, individuals are able to regain and enrich their sense of self by changing their self-perspective from one that is negative to one that is positive. They are also able to focus their identity separate from their illness.

Simultaneously, Reshma is bridging the constructed gap between those considered ‘normal’ and those suffering from mental illness, by creating shared spaces with the larger community. She brings issues of mental health into the open by having conversations in public spaces to engage women, children, caregivers and youth to connect, share their stories, question and reflect on their understanding of mental illness. Using art, role play, martial arts and other creative methods, she breaks down stereotypes both for persons with mental illness and people who claim they are unable to see the person behind the ‘label.’ Through this process, she is building a society that is capable of embracing those with mental illness in the way they want to be embraced. She also leverages such an educated and empathetic community of citizens to respond to issues of stigma and injustice and also bring in the user-survivors perspective into policies, with the long-term aim of advocating for full legal capacity of persons with mental illness.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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