“We should do something to get more people involved in mental health,” said one friend to another over a cup of coffee. And so the concept of Mind Mela was born.
Adveka Foundation, The Change Entrepreneurs and Maniben Nanavati Women’s College (MNWC) came together to organise this enterprise aimed at spreading the World Health Organization’s message, Dignity in Mental Health, which was also its theme for World Mental Health Day 2015.
The goal of Mind Mela was to get folks from everyday walks of life involved in mental health – to help them understand what it is, to dispel the myths surrounding it, and to help them access mental health professionals when needed.
Three events were planned under Mind Mela: an Outreach Programme, The Rickshawala Project, and an Open Forum discussion between experts and laypersons.
The Outreach Programme involved conducting awareness drives in 17 locations, including housing societies, parks and offices. MNWC students, along with mental health professionals, spoke to nearly 250 people about mental health, the stigma and the myths, early signs of mental health problems, easy interventions, and how to access a mental health professional.
Almost all the people we interacted with agreed that the talk had resulted in at least a small shift in their perspectives on mental health. They especially understood the parallel drawn between physical and mental illnesses – that, for instance, if you fall ill with malaria, it does not mean that malaria becomes your identity!
The second event, the Rickshawala Project, was conducted by The Change Entrepreneurs along with the Andheri Regional Transport Office, and the beneficiaries were, of course, our city’s rickshaw drivers!
The Change Entrepreneurs interacted with 120 rickshaw drivers, listening to stories of the difficulties of their job and talking to them about the importance of mental health in the light of the stress they face every day. The rickshawalas were elated as this was the first time a programme focused on their problems. The Change Entrepreneurs plans to replicate this project in different parts of Mumbai in the coming months.
The final event was an Open Forum discussion held at The HIVE in Bandra. Three experts – Irawati Joglekar, Dr. Cecilia Chettiar, and Dr. Kersi Chavda – interacted with an audience on the myths about mental health, the need for therapy to relieve stress, and the role of effective communication in relationships.
Ms. Joglekar addressed the crowd on communication and sex in romantic relationships. She elaborated on the societal barriers that prevent couples from approaching a counsellor for marital or sexual problems. In a culture where sex is not openly discussed, it was heartening to see the audience actively participate in the discussion without awkward silences or shying away from the subject.
Dr. Chettiar’s talk was called “Who’s got your remote?” and focused on the need to de-clutter one’s life of negative thoughts and ideas that cause mental and emotional damage. She said it was important not to shove stress under the carpet to deal with later, and instead suggested seeking professional help to deal with it soon, if needed.
Psychiatrist Dr. Kersi Chavda dispelled some common myths about mental illness, such as the misconception that you would have to take medication for life, that taking medication will make you zombie-like, and the most common one: that there is something seriously wrong with you if you need to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist.
He spoke of the urgency to do away with these myths in order for people who need these services to be able to access them in a timely manner.
The speakers encouraged the audience to take forward the message of “Dignity in Mental Health”. The audience understood that they too had an active and vital role to play in changing perspectives, so that people can access mental health professionals without any shame. Because, honestly, if you wouldn’t be ashamed to go to a doctor for malaria, why should you feel ashamed for seeking help for something far more potentially damaging if ignored?
All in all, Mind Mela was a success because it engaged with its audience in an informal and open way that put them at ease about an issue that is most often treated as the elephant in the room.
The Outreach Programme can be conducted for organizations, individuals, schools, etc. that wish to have it.
Ms. Irawati Joglekar is a consulting clinical psychologist at the Institute for Psychological Health, Thane, and a certified sex educator.
Dr. Cecilia Chettiar heads the Department of Psychology at Maniben Nanavati Women’s College and has a Ph.D. in cultural psychology and wellbeing.
Dr. Kersi Chavda is a psychiatrist, a consultant at Hinduja Hospitals, and a founder member at Prafulta, one of Mumbai’s biggest NGOs working on mental health.
*The authors of this post are Maitreyi Nigwekar, Founder & CEO of Adveka Foundation and Samyukta Maindarkar, Editor & Content Manager, Adveka Foundation .