The Lost Boys: Working with abandoned boys in a shelter home in Delhi

Yes, the title alludes to the band of boys Peter Pan led, boys who had lost their way only to find Neverland and Peter and perhaps a happy ever after. When I think of ‘the lost boys’, however, the only image which comes to mind, is that of the boys in the Shelter Home in New Delhi, where I worked as a mental health professional.

The population of this shelter home comprises lost, neglected, destitute or abandoned boys from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds as well as boys who have been survivors of atrocities, violence, sexual assault or even family disputes.

Some children in the home had clear diagnosable mental illnesses but mental health concerns do not confine themselves to neatly laid out guidelines and diagnoses. The World Health Organization (WHO) says it best when they say that health does not merely mean the absence of an illness but can be understood as complete (physical, mental and social) well-being. Children we were working with may not have been diagnosed as being “Bi-Polar” or as having an “Anxiety Disorder” or an “Avoidant Personality”, but they might be extremely moody, may get easily flustered and stressed when facing minor things, or may feel inadequate and be hesitant to form relationships. These were still mental health concerns which needed attention, even if they weren’t carrying heavy weight labels.

It was a challenge to initiate and maintain a therapeutic relationship with the children.

The key to working with these children was to establish trust. Having had insecure attachments in their lives, these children yearned to find stability, dependability and care from their caregivers.

Once you achieved this, encouraging introspection, problem solving, applying cognitive behavioral techniques to address issues such as stress, conflict, anger were easier tasks.

It was soon realized however, that one needed to move beyond the one on one interactions if we needed to reach out to a larger number of children. Creative competitions involving painting, dancing, decorating along with athletic competitions were introduced to help elicit positive emotions, engagement and a sense of achievement which are some of the cornerstones of positive mental health.

Over a year, initiatives such as this as well as consistent individual therapy, helped children in the home view the mental health unit as a safe space, one where not just the “paagals” go to get help but where you can go to feel better.


Psychologist but not a fan of Freud.  Currently employed as a School Counsellor. Fantasy geek. Food lover (because you always need some magic and good food to keep the spirits up. I swear, there’s research to back this up!