Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXXI No. 17, December 16-31, 2021

An exemplary psychiatrist of Madras

by Dr R. Thara, Schizophrenia Research Foundation, Chennai

by Dr R. Thara, Schizophrenia Research Foundation, Chennai

M. Sarada Menon in 2020. (Courtesy: Dr. Jaykumar Menon.)

M. Sarada Menon in 2020.
(Courtesy: Dr. Jaykumar Menon.)

Professor Dr. Mambillikalathil Sarada Menon, a psychiatrist par excellence and the first woman psychiatrist in India, died in Chennai – her hometown – aged 98 on December 5, 2021. As the Superintendent of the Kilpauk Mental Hospital (presently the Institute of Mental Health), she brought about several reforms to improve its performance to make the lives of resident patients better. She was also instrumental is starting psychiatry departments in many state general hospitals.

Every day, she would personally supervise lunch being served to every patient in the hospital. Once when the cooks went on strike she prepared food by herself for patients. She was also keen that patients must be kept engaged in some sort of work so that their rehabilitation was quicker. Her passion was rehabilitation of the mentally ill, which she feverishly pursued till her end. She could be described as the ‘mother of rehabilitation’ in India.

A few years after retiring from government service, she started the Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF) along with Drs. R. Thara and S. Rajkumar in 1984. Since she was so well respected, she was able to get the required land on lease from multiple sources to build SCARF. The late chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalitha recognised her contributions to psychiatry with the Avvaiyar award. She was one of the few psychiatrists in India decorated with Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 1992. She was a powerful administrator, an institution builder, and a stiff disciplinarian. People in Kilpauk used to say that they set their clocks as 8 AM, seeing her car whizzing past.

While collecting funds for SCARF, she always remained calm, especially when people she knew well did not accede to her request. She used to say, “We need to knock on all doors Thara, and some will open.” That was she.

Brilliantly exemplary were her personal knowledge of patients’ lives and her immense concern for them. Many people have been deeply touched by her kindness. She was not one of the doctors who simply prescribed medications but was one who spent time interacting with them sharing their problems and family issues. She always used to indicate that persons with mental illness suffered physical health problems, which normally went undiagnosed. She was always keen that mental-health patients should be checked periodically for their physical health as well. She considered holistic psychiatric care a critical dimension of mental wellbeing.

She loved cotton sarees and was always very elegantly dressed. Beautiful as she was, her dress sense accentuated her natural charm.

We can go on and on about this commanding and versatile lady doctor, but those of us who were lucky to work with her and know her well have gained a great deal and become better psychiatrists and better human beings.


  1. professor sadanand Rajkumar says:

    a great teacher, a trend setter in mental health globally and above all an inspiring human being!

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