Sanchita Mental Health Foundation (SMHF) is a day care rehabilitation and counselling centre dedicated to support and improve mental health, by providing support and care to individuals above the age of 18 years. It is pretty new addition to the list of mental health care providers. In this interview we spoke with Sanchita Sawhney, the founder of SMHF, on how her journey has been so far and what are SMHF’s expectations for the future.
1. What was the motivation behind setting up your foundation? Who were the people involved? What were the biggest challenges in setting up?
Throughout my work tenure, I came to the realization that the power of mental health, especially in India, is underestimated. 90 percent of the clients I have worked with thus far, had been misdiagnosed before, with a physiological disorder. People are more open about having a physical illness but very inhibited to share if they are facing a mental illness. This stops them for seeking help at the right time, which leads to worsening of their condition. My motivation is to reach out to all those people who have started believing that there is no way out and have accepted the mental illness as a representation of their identity.
The main people involved in this whole idea of establishing a day care and counselling centre were my family members and best friends. My parents supported me from the time I put the idea forward, till the execution. I couldn’t have done this without their support and guidance.
The challenges that we face are related to people’s inhibition to come out upfront and get help, denial of a problem if it exists and underestimation of the need of mental health awareness in corporates. But, we are trying to find our way through these challenges and come out strong with different solutions in our minds.
2. Could you tell a bit about the service of a day care centre? What exactly is it like and do you think more of such centres are needed in India?
SMHF runs on two major goals. One is to provide quality mental health care to individuals facing any kind of mental health issues. The second is to reduce the social stigma attached with mental illness and spread awareness about the importance of mental health. To achieve the first goal, we provide two types of services. First, we are a day care center, where in, clients above the age of 18 years would come at 10 am in the morning till 5 pm in the evening, from Monday to Friday. Throughout the day, we cater to our clients’ needs through different therapies, counselling services and fun activities. The aim is to reduce the symptoms of their disorder and help them cope better in life. Second, we also provide day to day counselling services for individuals above the age of 14, where in, the clients come once a week for a 1 hour session and discuss any problems that they are unable to work through.
To achieve the second goal, we aim to provide psycho-educational seminars in schools and corporates, that tackles mental health aspects like identification, acceptance, fight against stigma, and coping strategies. We also cater to specific requirements of organizations in terms of seminars, group sessions or counselling services, for example, a seminar/group session on workplace bullying will be held if it seems to be of concern in a particular organization, or talk about how to cope with exam stress during exam time in a particular school.
I firmly believe that we need more centres like this in India. Right now, I am catering to just NCR, but it makes me wonder how difficult it would be for people to reach out for help in other states. That honestly scares me and pushes me to spread our services across the nation in the coming years.
3. Since it hasn’t been long that your organisation came into operation, what have been some of the observations about the kind of people who have been coming in to seek help? Is there anything you were expecting differently?
What we have observed is that there is a lot of curiosity about what we do, but, there is fear as well! Fear of coming out and talking, fear about how society will judge them and fear within themselves for being diagnosed with any mental health issue. Day care help is a new concept here, and I think it might take some time for people to get used to this idea. Counselling services are well received, and acknowledged by schools.
To be honest, I expected less inhibitions in people to speak up and seek for counselling help. But it seems that we really have a tough struggle in the coming years in terms of stigmatization and social judgments. We are well prepared for it.
4. Could you tell us about the people/professionals who cater to clients?
Currently, I work as an in-house counselling psychologist at the foundation. I got my MSc. in Counselling Psychology from Christ University, Bangalore. My mother, who is the chairperson of the foundation, has an experience of 22 years in teaching. She left her job as a headmistress in a reputed school and joined me in this venture. We have our guest faculty; Dr MK Jain (Psychiatrist) and Dr Hersha Vij (Physician). As and when our client base starts increasing, we are looking forward to expand our team on the basis of further requirements.
5. What is the biggest challenge for you as of now, especially given that there is a big gap in provision of mental health services?
The biggest and the only challenge is to break the stigma. If we are able to do that, it can help us as a foundation and our clients to feel free and talk about what exactly they are going through. It’s time that we normalize conversations around mental health and mental illnesses.
6. What are your plans for expansion for the future? What according to you is required to make a substantial change in the way we look at mental health in India today?
Future plans involve expansion of our services across India. In the coming years, we aim to provide counselling services in various states and cities. The substantial change that we wish to bring is inculcating the need for awareness about mental health in people, from early years of life. The reason that some individuals fear to talk about mental health issues, is because they are not familiar with what they are going through. Parents need to start making their children aware of the importance of mental health and how to identify them. Family members need to be supportive and sensitive to a child’s mental health needs and not get overwhelmed themselves. Honestly, there is a need for complete change in the way people perceive mental health disorders.
All images courtesy SMHF. To know more about them, visit their Facebook page here.