The MINDs (Mental Illness and Neurological Disorders) Foundation India is an organization committed to eliminating the stigma surrounding mental illness through education and providing access to cost-effective, high-quality care. For this article, we spoke with Raghu Appasani, Founder and CEO and with Pragya Lodha, Associate, to learn about their current work and plans for 2018.
Shruti Saxena: What was the motivation behind setting up MINDS Foundation? Who were/are the people and organizations involved? What were the biggest challenges in setting up?
MINDS Foundation: Mental health is an issue that in one way or another affects us all. Mental illnesses are a diverse range of conditions affecting people across different stages of life, from autism and intellectual disability to depression, substance abuse and psychoses.
Given this, it is not surprising that at least 1 in 10 persons worldwide is estimated to be directly affected by a mental illness. The major issue, from a global perspective, is not only the numbers of people affected by these problems but that the vast majority of these persons do not receive the care that can greatly improve their lives.
The Mental Illness and Neurological Disorders (MINDS) Foundation was founded by Raghu Kiran Appasani in late 2010 after a life-changing experience of working with an ophthalmology non-profit in Bihar, India. Raghu had volunteered with another organization based in Patna, which exposed him to significant healthcare disparities and the dichotomy in lives between urban versus rural Indians. Simultaneously, he has had family members who did not have access to mental health services and witnessed first-hand the significant stigma associated with mental illness.
His background in working in neuroscience and psychiatric laboratories combined with his roots in rural India and passion led him to start MINDS Foundation. He reached out to psychiatrists pursuing community level work in India, which led to the realization that there was a huge gap in creating sustainable and scalable community intervention models. This was the background with which he set up MINDs, recruiting advisors and team members to be involved in this.
Due to the stigma surrounding mental health throughout the world, one of the biggest barriers continues to keeping mental health on the global agenda as well as channelling funds, which are very limited currently. Unlike other areas of health, mental health has significant long-term benefits that are at times hard to quantify for funding agencies seeking to provide grants.
SS: Could you speak a little about who are the intended beneficiaries or audience for the work done by MINDs? What are some of the myths you have had to overcome?
MF: Despite India having a vast number of billionaires and millionaires and a booming economy, most of us neglect remembering that the majority of citizens continue to live in rural regions that are often deprived of basic human rights, including mental health. The recognition of this inequality was one of the reasons MINDs began work in rural India, where no other mental health NGO was working at the time.
Our beneficiaries will include everyone in the rural regions of India; however, our work first began in Gujarat, and now we plan to build the model through partnership. Additionally, our digital analytics team realized the importance of keeping up a consistent conversation about mental health for the general population. Hence, we strive to continue partnering with media houses and digital outlets to provide an ongoing resource for anyone throughout India and the world to learn about mental health.
SS: Could you share details of the mh4all campaign as well as other platforms where you share content?
MF: The campaign, mh4all emerged as an awareness campaign under The MINDs Foundation in 2016. Mh4all aims to bring light to the emerging global public health concern of mental health. Even as we are in the 21st century, mental health has not integrated into a regular conversation or funding streams.
This platform will allow anyone involved in the global mental health sector to contribute. The campaign encompasses personal narratives, video journals, guest blog posts, photos, and any other form of digital media that contributes to raising awareness around the topic of mental health. We are looking forward to extending the campaign’s scope and reach through partnerships.
We have been working with The Better India to publish content on mental health. This involves sharing content that can equip people to know, understand and act responsibly about mental health issues in the society. We have published several articles which are available here.
SS: What is the plan for 2018?
MF: 2018 is going to be a big year for MINDs! We are excited about new partnerships that will aid us in expanding both our vision and model for cost-effective, high-quality mental health care for those in need.
We have already begun expanding our team in Mumbai and plan to start running mental health education programs in schools in 2018. At the same time, we are beginning to run a needs-assessment and geographical analysis to implement our model of mental health in the surrounding semi-urban/rural communities of Mumbai.
Another major undertaking is the formal development and publication of our evidence-based mental health education and training modules. We also plan to develop mental health programs for female sex workers, mental health-related domestic and gender-based violence and for the corporate sector.
We plan to additionally expand our community mental health worker and teacher training programs with, hopefully, the support of the government. Furthermore, we recognize the importance of targeting mental health at all angles, and specifically the youth population.
Hence, we will continue to actively publish regularly in media outlets and expand our own mh4all resource online. Finally, we anticipate a significant growth in our team along with this programmatic expansion and welcome all those interested in getting involved or support us to reach out.
SS: Are there any resources you would recommend for people looking to understand mental health issues or those struggling with mental health?
MF: The MINDs website has mh4all and Resources as two sections that can be accessed for understanding mental health. There are other websites such as MayoClinic, APA, PubMed, ResearchGate, Academia, Psychology Today and Wiley that provide material related to mental health, ranging from simple articles to research-based writing.
What is important to remember is that these resources, while providing general information, are not meant to be used for self-diagnosis. There are also crises helplines available across India that provide befriending, counselling and emotional support, such as iCall, The Samaritans, Sumaitri and more.
SS: Is there anything else you would like to add?
MF: We love fresh new ideas on how we can better achieve our vision—so don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We also welcome you to share your own story for our growing platform – mh4all. Educate yourself about mental health, speak up, support one another and join the movement to end the stigma.
The MINDs Foundation can be followed on Facebook.
Featured Image Credit: Facebook