History of the Department of Psychiatry

The Department of Psychiatry of National Institute of Mental Health And Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, which formally began in the mid-1950,’s, owes its origins to a historical process that began more than a century and a half ago.

It was sometime in the late 1830’s that a separate ward for the mentally ill was opened in the Hospital for Peons, Paupers and Soldiers in the Cantonment of Bangalore, to provide services for the soldiers of the East India Company, and the native population of Bengaluru. This gradually expanded, took over a disused Jail, a new building was built and finally in the 1930’s a new campus was built to house the mentally ill in salubrious surroundings away from the din and bustle of the city. The open atmosphere, lack of restraint and the excellent help provided by the staff soon became well known, and many visitors would be shown around this campus, as a model of what an independent Indian Kingdom could achieve, without any Imperial involvement. It is now 75 years that this campus has been in use. The buildings themselves are in marked contrast to most Asylums in India. The hospitals in Ranchi, and in Bengaluru were designed and constructed in the 20th century, and built according to the ‘most-modern’ designs of least restraint, allowing a therapeutic environment to emerge. The ones at Ranchi were guided by principles of racial segregation (which seemed anachronistic), while the one in Bengaluru was genuinely modern, according to Prof E Mapother, during a visit to India in 1937. DiwanMirza Ismail and Dr F Noronha took care to lay out extensive gardens with the help of Gustav Hermann Krumbiegel, the German botanist and the horticultural adviser to the Maharaja of Mysore. As Sir Ismail Mirza noted, he was happy that the general population of then Bangalore viewed the grounds as picnic spot rather than a dreary asylum!

The need to train specialists had become apparent by the mid-twentieth century but it was only after Indian independence that this could be transformed into reality. The Government of India, perhaps influenced by Mapother’s view, decided that post-graduate training would begin here and the All India Institute of Mental Health (AIIMH) was thus established, with the Department of Psychiatry as one of the founder departments.

Prof Willi Mayer-Gross visited here in 1951-52 when he helped plan the teaching and prepared the material and then again in 1956-59. The initial faculty in addition to Dr MV Govindaswamy and DLN Murti Rao thus included Willi Mayer-Gross, J Hoenig, DM Lieberman, as also Dr Gopalswamy, SK Ramachandra Rao and others. This eclectic mix offered training in Psychiatry, Neurology, Neurophysiology, Psychology, Indian Philosophy, Biochemistry and occasionally even English literature.

The department has now grown, and more than 1000 psychiatrists have passed through its portals. The Diploma in Psychological Medicine, which was initiated in 1954, was somewhat congruent with the DPM training at the Institute of Psychiatry, and was supplemented by an MD (Psychiatry) in 1966 with the DPM courses now being converted to MD courses. The Department was revamped on a number of occasions. The most notably event would be in 1974, when the All India India Institute of Mental Health (AIIMH) was transformed into the National Institute of Mental Health And Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) and the Department of Child Psychiatry was designated as a separate service. The department as of date has 33 faculty in Psychiatry, and 4 in Child Psychiatry, and almost a hundred resident doctors. The values that made this campus acquire such a glorious reputation were a commitment to patient care, an open-ness to diverse ideas, an inquisitiveness to delve deeper into the mysteries of mental illness using whatever science, technology, psychology, philosophy and even religion had to offer, and also make all this possible in a cosmopolitan atmosphere. To that extent, if walls could talk, they would have a lot to say about all the discussions and vehement arguments of various fads and fancies in Psychiatry over the past century!

NIMHANS Golden Jubilee Commemmorative Volume 2004. Pratima Murthy, Sanjeev Jain, CR Chandrasekhar (Eds), National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, Bangalore.