5 Researchers Investigating the Mental Health of Indigenous Communities in India

5 Researchers Investigating the Mental Health of Indigenous Communities in India

The mental health of indigenous communities is very rarely studied and when it is, it is often studied from a pathological angle, through a strict and unbudging application of diagnostic criteria that were developed and standardized on the Western industrialized population. Studies largely focus on substance use disorders and sometimes, psychosis. There is, however, a steady, albeit small, stream of research accumulating information on the experiences of members of indigenous or Adivasi communities without forcefully categorizing and reducing these experiences. Below, you will find a list of authors writing such research.

Please share information on any others that you may know of by commenting.

  1. Shubha Ranganathan 

Mental health care is as diverse as the manifestations of mental ill-health can be. If you are looking for thick descriptions of practices outside so-called professional and modern mental health care then look no further. Ranganathan has written about indigenous healing practices and the many meanings of recovery, trances and healing practices in Mahanubav temples. Her work raises very important questions challenging the rationalist anti-superstition discourse. An unshakeable argument for traditional healing is made with findings from rigorous ethnographic investigation in her work. Ranganathan’s research is deeply culturally sensitive and is an irreplaceable voice in Indian academia in this area. 

2. Karin Rechsteiner 

Along with colleague Andreas Maercker, Rechneister has investigated the language surrounding trauma in the Adivasi communities in Pune, Maharashtra. The metaphors, idioms and narrative descriptions that are used to describe experiences are not just reflections of the values and concepts within cultures but also reveal the thought processes behind experiences and themselves influence thought and action. Their comparative studies that explore the differences between different indigenous cultures reveal interesting insights into language and the culturally specific meaning(s) of trauma. 

3. Prof. R. C. Mishra 

Prof. Mishra has written extensively about the mental health challenges accompanying development and cultural changes in the Adivasi communities of Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh (Kharwars, Birhor, Asur, Oran, etc). Challenges accompanying acculturation following development and the behavioural strategies used by Adivasi individuals as they rise up to adapt to the new culture and social exclusion within different Adivasi communities are among the many topics related to Adivasi mental health that Mishra studies. In Mishra’s articles, a keen sensitivity to the socioeconomic conditions that determine Adivasi mental health and to the pluralism within Adivasi communities is observed. 

4. Anvar Sadath 

Dr. Sadath’s work has been focused on the indigenous populations in Kerala (Paniya, Nayakan, Oorali, etc). The studies take on a culturally-informed methodological approach, to investigate the prevalence of substance use disorders among indigenous tribes, community programs to improve their access to mental health services, and other related topics. Sadath’s work could inspire scaleable intervention models and thereby improve mental health outcomes for underserved indigenous communities in Kerala. Many other researchers have conducted studies on the indigenous communities living in Kerala’s Wayanad district. 

5. Malvika Gupta

Along with Felix Padel, Malavika Gupta writes and talks about tribal education with a focus on how the pedagogy contributes to assimilation. Their work analyses tribal education in India and details the potential for cultural alienation and cultural genocide in these spaces. Although not written from an explicitly psychological angle, their work is a must-read for those interested in learning about culture and child development and social learning in the context of widespread and forced assimilation as it offers great insight into the development of cultural identity and gets the ball rolling on the extremely important conversation that India is yet to have, on tribal education and the mental health of tribal children who are forced out of their traditional lifestyles and value systems. 


Balagopal, G., Kapanee, A.R.M. (2019). Integration of Mental Healthcare with General Healthcare Services for Tribals: The Decentralised Approach to Community Mental Health Programme by ASHWINI. In: Mental Health Care Services in Community Settings. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-9101-9_3

Gupta, M. & Padel, F. (2021). Are mega residential schools wiping out India’s Adivasi Culture?. The Hindu. https://www.thehindu.com

Gupta, M. & Padel, F. (2020). The Travesties of India’s Tribal Boarding Schools. SAPIENS. https://alicenews.ces.uc

Gupta, M., & Padel, F. (2018). Confronting a pedagogy of assimilation: the evolution of large-scale schools for tribal children in India’. Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford (JASO), X (2), 22-47. 

Mishra, R.C. (2019). Cultural and Psychological Dimensions of Development of the Adivasi Communities. In: Pandey, J., Kumar, R., Thapa, K. (eds) Psychological Perspectives on Diversity and Social Development. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-3341-5_7

Mishra, R. C. (2015). Mental Health Problems in Culturally Changing Adivasi Communities. Psychology and Developing Societies, 27(2), 214–230. doi:10.1177/0971333615593004 

Mishra, R.C., & Vajpayee, A. (1996). Mental health problems of women in a culturally changing community. Indian Journal of Mental Health and Disabilities, 1(2), 8–15. 

Mishra, R.C., Sinha, D., & Berry, J.W. (1996). Ecology, acculturation and psychological adaptation: A study of Adivasis in Bihar. New Delhi: SAGE

Ranganathan, S. (2018). Indigenous Healing Practices in India: Shamanism, Spirit Possession, and Healing Shrines. In: Misra, G. (eds) Psychosocial Interventions for Health and Well-Being. Springer, New Delhi. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-81-322-3782-2_7

Ranganathan, S. (2014). Healing temples, the anti-superstition discourse and global mental health: Some questions from Mahanubhav temples in India. South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 37(4), 625-639.

Ranganathan, S. (2014). The Rationalist Movement against Quack Healing: Critical Questions. Economic and Political Weekly, 49(1), 13–15. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24478447?

Rechsteiner, K., Maercker, A., Heim, E., & Meili, I. (2020). Metaphors For Trauma: A Cross‐Cultural Qualitative Comparison in Brazil, India, Poland, and Switzerland. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 33(5), 643-653.

Rechsteiner, K., Tol, V., & Maercker, A. (2019). “It should not have happened”: metaphorical expressions, idioms, and narrative descriptions related to trauma in an indigenous community in India. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being, 14(1), 1667134.

Sadath, A., Jose, K., Jiji, K., Mercy, V., Ragesh, G., & Arensman, E. (2021). Prevalence and Determinants of Substance Use Among Indigenous Tribes in South India: Findings from a Tribal Household Survey. Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. doi:10.1007/s40615-021-00964-2

Sadath, A., Jose, K., & Jiji, K. M. (2019). Factors influencing Betel quid chewing among indigenous tribal population in Wayanad, Kerala: A qualitative study. Kerala Journal of Psychiatry, 32(1), 17-24.

Sadath, A., Kumar, S., Jose, K., & Ragesh, G. (2019). Mental health and psychosocial support program for people of tribal origin in Wayanad: Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences model. Indian Journal of Social Psychiatry, 35(4), 224.