Every idea has a beginning, and this is where I get to talk about mine.
I work in health communication since 2008 at the Public Health Foundation of India and as a young person in the field, had begun to believe that I know about mental health. I had access to information and working at an organisation devoted to improving public health I was confident that personally, I could cope with life’s challenges and professionally, offer advice and even counsel. I was wrong.
I have not been cast away on a train never to return. Never been locked in a room with fourteen others without space to move. Never experienced stares, grins, harsh words or beatings. My body has never washed up dead on a shore, unclaimed or unwanted.
A few years ago I was browsing reports at a library, when I found myself eavesdropping over a phone conversation. I can never forget the look on her face. Her sister, who had physically harmed herself before, was desperate to talk to her. The care home where her sister was living, wanted her out. She needed a family to turn to, a friend to talk to. Someone to recognize, accept and support her life. Through my work I had run community-based health education programmes on diabetes, cancer, hygiene, sexual and reproductive health and healthy lifestyles, reaching thousands of people in seven states of India. I had dedicated my life to enabling better decisions for health- by people, just like me. I had worked in health communication and at several media houses before, and here I was, without a clue about mental health.
I was driven. ‘Maanavta se Anmol Mann Tak (Humanity for Precious Minds),’ was a pilot project I spearheaded for PHFI with Subhadra Menon, Vijayluxmi Bose and Rangashri Kishore in partnership with the Government of India in five states (December 2010- January 2012). Spearheading this initiative for PHFI has been the most rewarding experience of my life; one that has allowed me to nurture the passion and commitment to support underserved populations.
I have travelled across the country and been moved by experiences of persons living with mental health problems, care-givers, civil society representatives, advocates, frontline workers, District Mental Health Programme personnel and Psychiatrists. The programme was instrumental in helping 1,130 persons access treatment, for 1,846 persons from the community to voluntarily join dialogues on mental health, 1,467 students from 13 colleges to access information and take an anti-stigma stand. A one-of-its-kind, Festival of Creative Expressions on Mental Health was also organised as peer education by these youth. Our initiative widened reach of Government services and enabled knowledge gain for approximately 5,000 people.
I learned that silence, secrecy, stereotypes and stigma shroud mental health problems and prevent people from seeking help. To strengthen my understanding of strategies in support of this neglected area, and to contribute constructively to mental health needs of the country, I began my Doctoral Studies at LSHTM with Tatiana as my supervisor. For me, CREATORS is an important step as I cement my pledge in the service and philosophy of humanitarian values for persons living with mental health problems. It shall bring me closer to realizing my dream of understanding how to move young people, like myself, from apathy and indifference to activism and positive action.
Shivani Mathur Gaiha
Tatiana Taylor Salisbury
Tatiana Taylor Salisbury
Neha Swain, Shubhi Dwivedi, Siddarth Gowrav, Ferina, Pallavi Banothu, Nikhila Dittakavi, Swaraj Sai
RK Shenoy and Harika Vedula
Pranay Nadh, Sai Kumar and Vipasha Kiran
Aakar Art Academy
Any Body Can Paint
Samir Nagi and Harsha
The Fountainhead Counselling and Education Services (Counselling support and guidance) and counsellors at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad
Spandana Kommuri and Megha Pharande
If you would like to learn more about our work, create a tailored programme for your organisation or collaborate as an artist, drop us an email. We’d be delighted to hear from you!