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Adveka Foundation was established in October 2015 with the goal of working towards promoting mental health and wellbeing in every section of the society, eradicating the stigma and shame attached to mental illness, and advocating and facilitating uniform accessibility to mental health services for people from all economic backgrounds, gender and religion.

In the year and a half since it was founded, it has made remarkable progress on several fronts. 2016, its first full calendar year, was extremely productive.

Adveka’s most significant achievement was that it became a Level 1 fellow of UnLtd India, one among only about 20 to 30 organizations out of 300 applicants to win this coveted fellowship. UnLtd India is an organization that trains early-stage and upcoming social enterprises, and provides them with seed financing and incubation support. It is their mentorship that is helping to make the ideas and goals of Adveka a reality.

Caregiver support — prioritizing the mental, physical and emotional health of the caregiver so that they are better equipped to take care of their patient — is one of Adveka’s three major focus areas, the other two being personal counselling, and engagement with stakeholders to raise awareness and erase the stigma about mental health. In fact, Adveka is currently the only organisation in India focusing on caregiver support with specifically respect to the caregiver’s needs.

Under the guidance of UnLtd India, Adveka reached out to and partnered with several organizations working in the development sector to address their mental health needs. These include Cuddles Foundation, Aaji Care, Dignity Foundation, Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA), and the Asian Cancer Institute. While Dignity Foundation and Aaji Care provide specialized services for senior citizens, the other three organizations all work with cancer patients, and Cuddles Foundation in particular provides counselling and care for underprivileged children suffering from cancer.

In each of these organizations, Adveka worked with secondary caregivers — dieticians, medical and paramedical professionals, social workers, caretakers, and aayahs — to understand and help them deal with the unique challenges they face as part of their profession.

Caregivers almost always neglect their own health because they believe that thinking about their own needs is selfish when another person is dependent upon them. But by the very nature of the mental, physical and emotional support caregivers provide to the patients in their care, it is vitally important to recognize that they too need support just as much as their patients do, and to promote their wellbeing.

Through a specially designed curriculum spread out over six sessions, Adveka forms support groups for carers of patients with the same health issues, and conducts sessions with them on themes such as grief and sadness, managing guilt, anger and frustration, developing better communication, and building resilience. Though the end goal is to help equip the caregiver to take better care of the patient, the curriculum has been devised specifically to concentrate on the caregiver’s mental health needs as an individual rather than as a carer, or on the mental health needs of the patient.

Adveka’s first Care for the Carer workshop, held in November 2016, was conducted with the same purpose. Participants — who mainly comprised of primary carers of patients suffering from dementia, cancer, Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia, among others — were coached in various self-care techniques that would not only benefit their physical and mental health, but also enable them to cope well with the unique challenges they face with their patients.

Despite being in a public forum, many of the participants opened up and shared their experiences with caregiving, which was extremely encouraging. It inspired others to come forward with their own stories, and gave all the participants a sense of comfort and solidarity that they aren’t the only ones facing difficulties and challenges as a caregiver.

The workshop successfully achieved its twin goals of bringing the participants together and helping them bond over common issues, and fostering an environment that encourages open discussion about mental health issues as a natural reality of life. Adveka plans to conduct more workshops like these in the coming year.

Another major event of 2016 was the second edition of Mind Mela, a mental health initiative that Adveka conducts annually in collaboration with The Change Entrepreneurs and Maniben Nanavati Women’s College. It aims to raise awareness about mental health among people, and to encourage open conversation about an issue that is seen more as a stigma than as something that requires professional medical attention. The goal is to promote acceptance and understanding of mental illnesses, and to achieve dignity in mental health, so that a person suffering from mental illness is accepted without reservation, allowed to live their life without shame, and able to access help without fear.

Mind Mela is one of Adveka’s most rewarding endeavours, in that it has definitely been successful in boosting the conversation around mental health. More people participated in the 2016 Outreach Programmes than they did in the previous year, and more individuals shared their personal stories of coping with common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, which have so far been ignored for fear of appearing ‘abnormal’ or ‘flawed’ in the eyes of the wider society.

And finally, Adveka Foundation’s work is gradually coming to the wider public attention. The workshop on caregiver support earned us a short write-up in the Free Press Journal. A notable recognition, but this is just the beginning. With society becoming increasingly aware of the importance of mental health, we hope that in 2017, both the subject and our organization’s work gain greater recognition.

Going forward in 2017, we take encouragement from our successes in the last year, and look to have an even more productive twelve months ahead.

*Written by Samyukta Maindarkar, Editor & Content Manager, Adveka Foundation.

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