While growing up in India I had seen firsthand the stigma associated with mental illness which is also the greatest obstacle facing the mental health community. In India, this stigma is pervasive, from being blatantly apparent in governmental institutions, to reaching families and local communities. It doesn't just lead to poor quality housing and untrained doctors; it is an issue of human rights. The conditions of many mental health facilities are inexcusable; people lack basic human dignity, and necessities such as clothes, clean water, and food; they are often locked away in prison-like rooms; and lack even the most basic legal protections. However, I recently came across Minds Foundation, an organization started by a group of Wesleyan University students who are desperately trying to eradicate this stigma and also provide mental healthcare service to patients in rural villages.
Here is their story:
Two years ago, Raghu Appasani, a student at Wesleyan University, came in contact with the disparity between rural and urban healthcare while volunteering at an eye clinic in Bihar, India. Rural patients often lack the financial and medical resources available to those in the city. Simultaneously, Raghu's cousin, who suffered from epilepsy, was entering the Indian mental health system, and the family of his cousin was experiencing great difficulty in securing proper treatment for the illness. Besides the fact that the number of trained mental health caregivers -- approximately 4,500 psychiatrists servicing a population of over 1.3 billion -- lags far behind those in other health sectors, individuals with mental illness often experience significant social stigma and a general lack of communal comprehension of their medical condition.
Moved by the plight of his cousin, Raghu decided that upon returning to Wesleyan, he would dedicate his time to somehow alleviating these problems. Thinking about the most effective way to do so, he had the idea to design a multi-phase program for raising awareness about and treating mental illness that would harness existing resources to bridge the gap between rural and urban healthcare. Phase 1 would consist of educational awareness camps that would bring together families and communities in rural villages to interact with Indian healthcare workers to learn about mental illness. During phase 2, treatment and counseling, individuals afflicted with mental illness and who participated in the camps would voluntarily come to a nearby medical institution to be formally diagnosed and receive a treatment program. Finally, throughout phase 3, patients would participate in vocational training programs with partnering local businesses to learn employable skills, with the end goal of contributing to and re-integrating within their own community in a valuable way.
Fast forward to today, and the MINDS Foundation has educated nearly 1,000 individuals, and is currently treating 36 patients suffering from a variety of illnesses ranging from schizophrenia to depression. The Foundation operates in Gujarat, outside the city of Baroda, and works through a close partnership with Sumandeep Vidyapeeth University to reach out to a cluster of 19 villages and 15,000 individuals in the surrounding vicinity. University psychiatrists volunteer their time pro bono to diagnose, treat, and counsel patients, and the full-time social worker employed by the Foundation to conduct day-to-day operations, Mehul Solanki, uses the University as his base when working in the villages.
Simultaneously, a team of Wesleyan students, spearheaded by Raghu and advised by an oversight board that includes individuals in the IMF and at Harvard Medical School, is working to develop the program, do research with data collected through the education camps, and prepare for phase 3 and future scaling. Raghu hopes to initiate phase 3 in the coming months, proving the efficacy of the multi-phased model, and then begin to expand the number of individuals and geographic area covered by the Foundation in the next year. The Foundation has made great strides, but there is much work yet to be done.
If you want to support, get involved and learn more about Minds Foundation then please visit their website: http://www.minds-foundation.org