The need to focus on mental health issues is becoming important day by day. In India, lakhs of people struggle with mental health issues. According to a recent survey by the BMC, as many as 1.74 lakh people have mental health issues in Mumbai alone. The need to address this topic becomes even more significant today. One such initiative in this regard is being helmed by Mumbai-based Shwetha Bhatia.

Bhatia is a nutritionist and an entrepreneur. Also a columnist and a fitness athlete, she was presented with the Exceptional Women of Excellence Award 2017 by the Women Economic Forum. With mental health being a part of her practice, she has decided to go forward in helping a population that is not only struggling with mental health issues, but also with access and affordability. SheThePeople.TV spoke with Shwetha Bhatia about Talk To Me – the NGO that aims to reach out to municipal hospitals and schools to help generate more awareness surrounding mental health. Excerpts from the interview.

Please tell us about the NGO you’re setting up. What led you to venture into the area of mental health care?

In the last ten years of my practice as a nutritionist, I’ve also understood that mental health does play an important role when it comes to consultation with regard to diet. I’ve personally gone through a couple of issues and realised how important mental health is. People in this country hardly have any awareness concerning mental health. Yes, people are more open now in discussing these issues at large and are less hesitant in seeking help. However, there’s still an ample amount of work required. Dealing with hundreds of such cases over the years, I decided to initiate something and, thus, with the help of Dr Narendra Kinger, a senior clinical psychologist, and some other others, I came up with the idea of Talk To Me. The NGO is in the process of setting up. We will be setting up counselling and camps surrounding mental health in municipal hospitals, and such bodies, where we can reach out to people with lesser means and no privilege. 

In the last ten years of my practice as a nutritionist, I’ve also understood that mental health does play an important role when it comes to consultation with regard to diet

“Our drive to help ease stigma surrounding mental heath has reached the BMC. While, our organisation works for everyone, our undivided focus also lies on women and children, and all such vulnerable groups and communities. Economic viability is another aspect we are focusing on because of the lower middle class groups that cannot afford high priced counselling. Getting BMC on board was to offer something more accessible to a greater population in terms of price.” 

Our work has helped spread awareness among children in the BMC schools – the response is positive

According to the World Health Organization, a massive 50 per cent of the 300 million people currently living with depression go untreated. Do you think our understanding of mental health is delusional?

You know the spectrum of my clients range from those suffering clinical conditions to those seeking sports performance enhancement. There are instances when I realise some are struggling with clinical depression, which in turn affects their physical health. However, the stigma associated with mental health makes for a huge roadblock in understand what the condition really is. That’s where it’s all delusional. People go untreated because they don’t understand what the issue at large is and how it negatively affects their physical health as well.

The stigma associated with mental health makes for a huge roadblock in understanding what the condition really is. That’s where it’s all delusional

Do you think there’s a lack of structure in addressing mental health issues in the country?

The lack of structure is definitely present in terms of initiating developments that can address these issues professionally. Again, lack of awareness among people is what’s the main hindrance here. Most importantly, introducing professional help and making it economically viable is the challenge the society faces. A majority of the population cannot reach out to associations and medical groups. The high costs are another factor that deter people from making such choices. Overall, the system needs an enhanced plan if we are to tackle this issue at the ground level.

Most people cannot afford counselling or therapy

What are the key challenges you face in working for and improving mental health care services?

At Mind Your Fitness, our nutrition and training centre, our main challenge is to help people understand that mental health holds a direct link to their physical well-being. For example, during a fitness consultation, if I figure out there’s an issue with someone and I tell that person to seek counselling, that’s not going to happen. There won’t be a level of seriousness. The key challenge is to tell people, especially vulnerable groups, that the body and mind are connected. The more we talk about it, the lesser we lag behind in tackling mental health issues.  So, the challenge here is to create dialogues and talk more. If we crack this, there’s a better chance of breaking the cycle of stigma and even discrimination, to some extent.

People have their set priorities and mental health conversations never make it to the top

Priority and time is another roadblock. Our society does not believe in dealing with mental health problems and therefore there’s no motivation to take out time to have a conversation about it.

Talk To Me aims to make people realise that mental health issues are not a sign of weakness, they’re a sign of strength to seek help

What ways do you think can governments and authorities help in creating more awareness? How can we initiate new developments?

Like here in Mumbai, the BMC is starting to cooperate and assist in organising camps, sessions and programs in municipal bodies. Our collective efforts have shown positive outcomes as well. Recently, the Yuva Sena demanded counsellor facility in all BMC schools to address children’s stress issues. Similarly, we need such support from other government bodies as well. The rising rates of depression are extremely worrying and this is something we all have to tackle collectively.

Why I’m stressing on economic viability here is because that’s the aspect that needs more attention. Individuals, organisations, and communities have to come together and recognise where we are going wrong. It’s about starting a conversation about mental health to create lives of resilience.Young India is not shy to talk about their issues, but overall acceptance of the issue is extremely low. That’s where the work has to begin at.

We need to make people aware that mental health is integral to their overall health and well-being

Also Read: #MeToo India: A therapist tells us about PTSD and Self-Care while reliving trauma

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