Vandana Gopikumar

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2012
The Banyan


This profile was prepared when Vandana Gopikumar was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.
The New Idea
Eighteen years ago, a 22-year-old Vandana set up a shelter for homeless mentally ill women in order to provide care and basic treatment, and she was struck by the realization that the problem was much deeper since India lacked an effective overall mental healthcare system. Furthermore, she saw that the homeless mentally ill required not just medical attention but a whole spectrum of healthcare and psychosocial services ranging from their rescue off the streets to rehabilitation, reintegration into society, while also ensuring a continuum of care.

With a determined focus on overall wellness as opposed to symptom reduction alone, and the strong participation of the community, Vandana has designed a microcosm of a full bouquet of solutions for the homeless mentally ill, with the goal of ensuring their reintegration as functional members of society. Having tested and honed her healthcare delivery system in and assisted in its replication by other citizen organizations (COs) in different states, Vandana has begun to be strategic in influencing government machineries to adopt her methodologies on a national scale. She has effectively engaged the government and policymakers to redesign standards of treatment and budgetary allocations for mental health, on a national level. As a member of the Policy Group on National Mental Health Policy and Plan, appointed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Vandana also advocates for openness and humane practices in treatment centers that offer long-term care for the mentally ill.

Vandana believes rural areas are a point of origin to ebb homelessness due to mental illness. She is working with the Panchayats communities and the Central Government to make facilities available for early screening, counselling, and treatment for mental illnesses at Primary Health Centres in villages. As a result of her efforts, fewer individuals may be rendered homeless as a result of undetected and untreated mental illness. She is also addressing the issue of a lack of trained mental health professionals in India, by creating integrated courses in partnership with reputed universities, to train professional and non-specialist social workers in the field of psychiatric social work. Vandana is working with the Central Government to place these social workers in both urban and rural areas, to ensure quality of treatment and care across the country.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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