“Disability in women doesn’t mean lack of capacity.” This is what Dr. Lavanya Seshasayee is steadfast to prove. And she, herself is a proof. Once a woman with Schizophrenia, Dr.Lavanya Seshasayee is now, the founder of ‘THE GLOBAL WOMEN’S RECOVERY MOVEMENT’ which was started in 2017. Previously, the movement was called ‘THE INDIAN WOMEN’S RECOVERY MOVEMENT’, and it was started by Seshasayee in 2011. GWRM with its headquarters in Bangalore, India, is led by women, of women and for women across the world. The need for GWRM/IWRM dawned from her own personal journey with Schizophrenia. Back then, there was gender insensitivity in the context of mental health in India. Also, the women entering Psychiatric clinics were never empowered. The movement addresses these issues and now women across the globe connect and contribute their ideas pertaining to how women’s mental health problems can be resolved. She, in earlier days worked with many NGOs for over six years before starting GWRM.
Ironically, in the late 90’s, when the doctors had declared her a ‘medical failure’ and said she was incapable of doing anything, she made quite an impressive academic achievement. She did PhD in Mental Health which dealt with mental health problems Indian Women faced during various phases of their lives. Her passion for Psychology goes way back to the time when she was doing her bachelor’s. She passed out of BA in Journalism, English literature and Women’s Studies with a silver medal when she was undergoing her journey through Schizophrenia. She says she came up with a support system called “FSA- Feminist Self Advocacy” during her lucid moments between her episodes of Psychosis. FSA is now named “WSEA – Women’s Self Empowerment and Advocacy”. She never believed in implementation of only biomedical therapeutic models on patients which is why she devised this user survivor system to be combined with biomedical approach. Her mother implemented this support system on her and with continuous feedback of her caregiver’s behaviour towards her, about her needs and regarding what it felt like to be her during those days, this model was a success.
While this may be how she dealt with Schizophrenia, she aids her ‘Clients’ with similar User-Support Systems.She says the most dignified way to address the people entering Psychiatric treatments would be ‘clientele’, not as patients. The movement is all about empowerment of women with gender sensitive cum rights based approach in solving mental health problems and issues of women. Here, the psychiatrists are trained to implement a ‘capabilities informed approach’ and caregivers are trained to relearn communication with their clients in an empathetic way. She points that the movement is all about clients, they can interact with professionals at every step and can decide their own model of recovery. Clients learn to be very strong and learn strategies to deal with cultural imperialists. She thinks being ‘anti-establishment’ is an asset to solve problems of Psychosocially Challenged women because it means that you have the grit to disagree with the unjust system and fight against it without being antagonised by your surroundings.
Seshasayee was one of the 9 people who were completely funded to attend the Global Mental Health Summit held in 2009 in Athens, Greece by the World Psychiatric Association. The conference was about scaling up biomedical solutions in tackling mental health issues in developing and underdeveloped countries. She disagreed with that since she thinks it engages in commercialization and over medicalization which in reality can be solved by changing social attitudes and environments that are incapacitating. She was also invited to draft a white paper by Indian Government in 2009 to rewrite laws for mentally ill. She and other experts advocated various changes to be made in Mental Health Act of 1987. She tried to make the laws more in consonance with UNCRPD– United Nations Convention For Rights Of People With Disabilities, which attributes social, political, cultural, economic and legal barriers rather than biomedical reasons to disability.
She is a part of the ‘VOICES’ PROJECT instituted by the National University of Ireland-Galway [NUIG]. She wrote a chapter “The Phoenix Rises” sharing her story pertaining to deprivation of full legal capacity, how it affected her and changes to be made in legal laws. NUIG plans to release it as a book with stories of various other distinguished disability advocates. She is also writing a book on realities faced by psychosocially challenged women which is basically from her life experiences. She gives individual counselling as well and looks ahead to open a college for mental health and train more self advocates to share their stories which she believes will create a snowballing effect in the recovery of clients.
Today, she is one successful self-advocate for mental health promotion who was trained by her Guru, Dr.Bhargavi Davar whom she aspires to emulate. Dr.Davar is a strong mental health activist and founder of the Bapu Trust for Research on Mind and Discourse, who promotes creative and non-psychiatric approaches to treat mental illness. GWRM has had phenomenal response from around the globe and she says the attitude towards women are no better in foreign nations but the tremendous family support provided to clients can be an added advantage in India despite the shortage of psychiatrists.
Finally, she says a likeminded individual can contribute financially or as a volunteer to any of their many programs like The Women Hand-holders’ Program, Habilitation sessions to create Sister Self Advocates, Corporate Projects, Barefoot Peer Supporters. People can also link up with her movement if they are an art therapist, a musician, a body movement therapist, a theatre artist, a legal expert or a women’s activist.
Once, when people thought Schizophrenia would dilapidate her life, she was actually much stronger and used it to make a difference. She is now a doctor who was once a patient. This is what defines Lavanya Seshasayee today. Disabled or not, there are truly no limits to what a human being can do!
“Abled does not mean enabled. Disabled does not mean less abled.” ― Khang Kijarro Nguyen