Advertisment

Changemaker In Medicine: Dr Sarada Menon, First Woman Psychiatrist In India

Dr Sarada Menon was the first woman psychiatrist in India. She paved the path for more sensitive and effective mental healthcare by founding a research foundation for schizophrenia and other disorders.

author-image
STP Editor
Updated On
New Update
dr sarada menon

Images: Readers Digest, Daily Rounds

Dr Sarada Menon was the first woman psychiatrist in India. She paved the path for more effective mental healthcare by founding a schizophrenia research foundation. Dr Menon was dedicated to her practice, attending to dozens of patients every day, even in her 90s. She was the pioneer of psychiatry in India after all. As the first woman to practise mental healthcare in India, she made indispensable contributions to the field, advocating for improved services and awareness across the country.

Advertisment

Remembering Dr Sarada Menon

Dr Menon founded the Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF), a non-governmental organization working for the rehabilitation of people afflicted with mental disorders. She was awarded the Padma Bhushan, one of the highest civilian awards, in 1992.

"When I studied to be a doctor, the prevalent notion was that mental disorders can't be cured completely, and psychiatry as a separate field of the medical study found few takers," Dr Menon had once said in an interview. She was born in Mangaluru, Karnataka, as the youngest of eight children and studied in Chennai.

"As a child, I had always wanted to know why people behave the way they do. It’s the mind that decides every action" she recalled in an interview with the online magazine Daily Rounds. A psychiatry graduate of the Madras Medical College, she trained at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) in Bengaluru. 

When she was doing her senior Cambridge year she only had five classmates, she revealed in an earlier interview. At the medical college, though there were several women students, women did not have to pay fees. "When I studied to be a doctor, the prevalent notion was that mental disorders can't be cured completely, and psychiatry as a separate field of the medical study found few takers," Menon told TOI in an interview.

About her initial days of working as a psychiatrist, she said, "When I began working at the Institute of Mental Health in 1959, it was overcrowded, with 2,800 patients, and understaffed. Patients had nowhere else to go." In 1984 she co-founded SCARF in Chennai with psychiatrist R. Thara, with whom she had worked for over 35 years.

At the age of 92, Menon was chosen for the Avvaiyar Award of Tamil Nadu. The award carries ₹1 lakh, a gold medal weighing eight grams, a certificate of merit and a shawl. It is given to women for their achievement in social reforms, women’s development, communal harmony, arts, science, culture, journalism and administration.

Menon was a member of the state government panel set up for proposing prison reforms. She was also associated with the World Fellowship for Schizophrenia and Allied Disorders (WFSAD). "A great role model and inspiration to all of us. So human at many levels. She was always talking about her passion, the rehabilitation of the mentally ill," Menon's colleague Thara said after her death at 98 years old in 2021.

mental health First women Sarada Menon indian women doctors
Advertisment