Exemplary Experiences in Mental Health and Psychiatry Across the World: Schizophrenia Research Foundation

Inauguration of IConS 2008SCARF is the acronym for the Schizophrenia Research Foundation, a non-governmental, non-profit organization based in Chennai (formerly Madras) in South India. SCARF was established in 1984 by a group of philanthropists and mental health professionals led by Dr. M. Sarada Menon, an internationally renowned psychiatrist. In the twenty five years since, SCARF has reinforced itself as a center of repute in rehabilitation and research in disorders of the mind. The present team led by Dr. R. Thara (Director) includes psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, rehab personnel, administrative and support staff.

SCARF is one of few NGOs in the world to be named as a Collaborating Centre of the World Health Organization (WHO) for Mental Health Research and Training. SCARF is also recognised by the Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India and is the Indian co-ordinating site for the anti-stigma programme of the World Psychiatric Association.

In recognition of its outstanding services for the welfare of the disabled, SCARF received the “National Award to Outstanding Employer 1995” from the President of India. In 2001, SCARF was the recipient of the Helen Keller Award instituted by the National Centre for the Promotion of Employment of Disabled People in New Delhi. In 2006 SCARF became the first and only Indian organization to receive a Certificate of Excellence from the Geneva Human Rights Association for its work in protecting and promoting the rights of the mentally ill.

A Community Mental Health Clinic of SCARF underwayTreatment and Rehabilitation

SCARF provides its services to the mentally ill through an out-patient clinic, a day care centre and a comprehensive rehabilitation centre that provides social and vocational training. Additionally, SCARF offers educational assistance to children of disabled clients as well as family empowerment programs and job placement for sufficiently recovered clients. All these services are provided absolutely free of cost to the patients and their families.

SCARF also runs three residential centers, with a combined capacity of 150 beds. Each center is manned by a qualified multidisciplinary team who offer rehabilitation inputs to discharge patients at the earliest, and reunite them with their families.

Community Outreach Programs

Over the past 15 years, SCARF has established community mental health programs in several distinct geographical areas, both rural and urban. More recently, SCARF has extended the reach of this program by establishing a telemedicine network that connects remote areas to a central hub in Chennai. At present the community outreach program of SCARF covers a population of about 200 villages and 5 urban slums. SCARF aims to cover an additional 200 villages under its program in the coming years.

SCARF is also working in schools and colleges to improve the mental health of students, through the School Mental Health Program.

The President of India Dr. Abdul Kalam inaugurating the Anti-stigma program of SCARFAnti Stigma and Awareness Programs

SCARF’s core objectives include educating the public about schizophrenia to create awareness and understanding, facilitate early detection, and help eliminate social stigmatization. To achieve this, SCARF launched Frame of Mind in 2006, a film festival on mental health issues. Over the last three years, the festival has brought in newer audiences, and initiated public discussions about mental illness.

SCARF has organized several awareness programs using indigenous modes of communication such as street plays and folk theater, as well as screening specially made educational films and other audiovisual material. Manuals have been brought out for primary health care workers, teachers and families.

Training and Teaching

SCARF offers internship and training for students of Social work, Psychology, Occupational therapy and Nursing. Students gain valuable experience in working with the chronic mentally ill, through SCARF’s treatment and rehabilitation programs.

SCARF also trains primary care physicians, multi-purpose workers and health workers in both urban and rural areas to enable early detection. As part of a collaborative effort with the Disability Commissioner of the Government of Tamil Nadu, several groups of professionals including doctors, nurses, staff of NGOs and teachers have been trained.

Frame of Mind - A film festival on mental health organized by SCARFResearch

SCARF has completed several research projects on biological, social and psychological aspects of Schizophrenia in collaboration with reputed national and international organizations including the World Health Organization, the Institute of Psychiatry, London, Douglas Hospital, Canada, Crichton Royal Hospital, Dumfries, Scotland and many more SCARF has over 200 publications to its credit in peer reviewed international journals and has also been instrumental in designing several scales and instruments to measure different aspects of schizophrenia.

Every two years, SCARF hosts the International Conference on Schizophrenia (ICONS), bringing together delegates from around the world to debate current issues in mental health. In 2008, the third edition of ICONS was attended by over 300 delegates, including representatives from over 15 countries. Inaugurated by Dr. Benedetto Saraceno, Director of the Mental Health Division (WHO), ICONS was co-sponsored by the World Health Organisation, the World Psychiatric Association and the Indian Psychiatric Society.


SCARF continues to actively lobby with the Government and other apex bodies for new programs that will benefit the mentally disabled. SCARF has successfully ensured that disability caused by mental illness is recognized by the Indian Government and included in the Persons with Disabilities Act.




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