‘I felt that this was my home’

Located on Oni Place, nestled in a valley and overlooking the mountains, is Krishna Kumar’s psychiatric office.

Six days a week, patients come to Kumar’s office in Kalaheo, looking for counseling on relationship and marriage strife and alcoholism treatment. Patients also seek out Kumar for psychotherapy, to get counsel on a myriad of issues, from rejection and physical and sexual abuse to fear, panic and guilt.

Kumar, the recipient of the Distinguished Lifetime Fellow medallion, the highest honor from the American Psychiatric Association, has been a practicing psychiatrist for 45 years, 40 in Hawaii.

Born in Pichuttur, India, which is now Pakistan, Kumar was 4 years old when his Hindu family was forced to leave the future Muslim country.

“My parents had gone through being in a state of riches to rags overnight,” he said. “They had eight-hour notice to leave, and had to walk nine days with us children in a caravan of 100,000 people. We had just garbanzo beans to survive on.”

Kumar said he feels blessed to be a part of that journey because he now believes he can survive “any major disaster in life.”

“Hurricane Iniki was a natural disaster for all of us on Kauai, but remembering what my parents had gone through, it did not devastate me,” he said.

Kumar trained in western medicine at Azad Medical College in New Delhi, India. In 1967, he moved to Chicago to complete his internship at the Edgewater Hospital, where he trained in fields like surgery, gynecology, pediatrics. In 1970, he completed his residency in psychiatry at the Illinois State Psychiatric Institute.

“There was a great teacher there, Jack Weinberg, he felt I would be the right person to learn, to have the knowledge and have the empathy and compassion to help patients,” he said.

While at the Illinois State Psychiatric Institute, Kumar spent time on the Westside of Chicago, counseling the poor and less fortunate in the city on a weekly basis.

“That gave me the opportunity to see the problems in the community, not just in the office,” he said.

Kumar’s first visit to Hawaii was in 1973 when he traveled to Oahu for a world psychiatric meeting.

“I certainly felt that I belonged in Hawaii,” he said. “I’ve been a nature person from my childhood days — when I was two years old my grandparents took me to Kashmir, which was the most beautiful part of India. They had a houseboat on a lake, and I felt comfortable being by the lake, just throwing the pebbles.”

While on Oahu, Kumar realized Hawaii was where he needed to be.

“I went to all of the Hawaiian islands, and felt that this is my home,” he said.

So, on Christmas Day 1974, Kumar moved from Chicago to Oahu.

“Being a person who derives their inspiration and spirituality in the nature and in the universe, I lived and practiced in Kaneohe,” he said.“But, after the Windward City Shopping Center came, it did not give me the feel for living on the island anymore.”

Kumar moved to Kauai in 1990, and has spent the last 25 years living and practicing in Kalaheo.

On Kauai, he advices his patients to go to the Waimea Canyon and the Kalalau Lookout for peace and serenity, which he considers some of his favorite spots on the island.

“I have been blessed to travel almost the whole world, and I feel my own sense of spirituality there,” he said.

He estimates he has been to the canyon over 300 times.

In his 40-year career, Kumar gained recognition for being an advocate for the rights of people suffering from mental health.

He was able to change Hawaii insurance policies, so that people suffering from six major health disorders — schizophrenia, major depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, psychosis and some panic disorders — have an unlimited number of psychiatric visits.

When he first began practicing psychiatry in Hawaii, the Hawaii Medical Services Association only covered $500 for the year, and the first visit wasn’t covered, Kumar said.

“The first visit was $75, and not many people wanted to pay that. So no one would see us,” he said.

People suffering from other mental health issues, like alcohol and drug abuse, adjustment disorder and depression, are allotted 24 annual visits to a psychiatrist, under the insurance change, which was made in the early 1990s.

Kumar considers getting the appropriate coverage for people suffering from mental health disorders one of the most rewarding moments in his career.

“I think I sowed the seed to improve the insurance coverage,” he said.

He also worked to remove the stigma attached to mental health by holding candlelight vigils, meeting with church leaders and starting the “May is Mental Health Month” on Oahu.

Some of Kumar’s accolades include: the Overall Public Affairs Network Award and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award. Helping people through their troubles is a process, Kumar said.

“Adults, in their journey, they become better parents. When they become better parents, they are better family members, and their children grow with a sense of security, trust and love. With that, children perform better in schools and they will have a future career,” he said. “So mental health is important, marriage is important, parenting is important and family life is important. Then we all have to work together to improve our community.”

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