The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health (BALM) is located in Thiruvidanthai Panchayat, Kancheepuram District, Tamil Nadu. BALM is co-located with the ‘Clustered Group Home’ programme of The Banyan’s Inclusive Ecosystems vertical, with a vision to create not just an inclusive, dynamic learning environment for students but also one that is therapeutic and stimulates personal recovery for the residents.
Students are encouraged to engage with the residents of the Group Homes, support staff in the operations of the programme, and initiate innovative interventions that contribute to an improvement in quality of life for the residents. In the past, students have worked at The Banyan Bistro – the cafeteria on campus, employing persons with mental health issues. They have supported vocational training instructors and created new options for employment, and even worked as yoga instructors.
Most importantly, students have the unique opportunity to spend extensive, quality time with the residents at the group homes. In the process they receive affection, and gain deep insights into the ‘lived experience’ of those who have mental health problems. This offers an understanding that is highly sought after by all mental health practitioners, especially psychologists and social workers, thus giving them an edge when they graduate. Residents often invite students and staff to their homes and share stories and food. This has been a wonderful example of fictive-kinships that form in lieu of families.
However, students are expected to respect the privacy of the residents as they would their own, in their respective homes.
In addition to the group homes, The Banyan’s other projects include, the Health Centre (Rural Mental Health Programme – RMHP), Kovalam; the Transit Care Centre (TCC), Adaikalam, Mogappair; the Shelter for Homeless Men with psychosocial needs, Santhome; and the multiple clinic sites across Chennai (Urban Mental Health Programme, UMHP).