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Mpower – Creating a Sustainable Change in India’s Mental Health

06 April 2022

By

Neerja Birla

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4 min read

India has one of the highest prevalence of mental illnesses globally, with every one in ten individuals dealing with mental health concerns. It would not be an exaggeration to say that India is in the midst of a mental health crisis, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. In just the past couple of years, WHO estimates that the number of people dealing with mental health concerns has soared from 7.5 percent of Indians to 20 percent of Indians. Of these, over 80 percent of them do not get the help they need. This shocking treatment gap comes from the deep-rooted cultural stigma around mental health and the lack of access, affordability, and awareness about mental health.

Our society is a long way from fully accepting that just like our bodies, our minds also get unwell from time to time. Our healthcare infrastructure too is woefully underequipped to prioritise mental health as a critical part of holistic wellness. On average, there are a mere 0.3 psychiatrists per 100,000 people in India and a as few as 56,600 public psychiatric beds for nation where 19 crore people need mental health interventions. Many villages and towns are not served by any sort of primary mental healthcare facilities at all. In urban areas where one can still find psychologists and psychiatrists, the cost of regular therapy sessions often ends up being more than the average family can afford.

Since 2016, Mpower has been working towards creating a long-term, sustainable shift in the way people perceive mental health and to ensure equitable access to mental healthcare for everyone, irrespective of their socio-economic background.  Our goal is to create a stigma-free society, where people with mental health concerns and their caregivers can live a life of fulfilment, with support, acceptance, dignity and respect. Mental health is important for everyone simply because it is an indivisible part of one’s holistic wellness. When’s one mental health reserves are depleted, it starts to impact every aspect of one’s life – work, interpersonal relationships, happiness and one’s physical health. Without a strong foundation of mental wellness, everything is going to be a struggle. A healthy mind and a healthy body, both are inseparable. This is the central tenet that rests at the heart of everything we do at Mpower. Over the past few years, we’ve been making steady and significant progress through our five verticals – The Mpower Movement, Clinical Care, Outreach, Academia, and the Mpower Helpline.

Through our social media awareness and engagement campaigns under the Mpower Movement, we strive to bring about a cultural shift and a change in people’s mindsets by addressing misconceptions, fostering positive attitudes, disseminating correct information, and alleviating stigma related to mental illnesses.

We provide world-class clinical care through our Mpower Centres in Mumbai, Banaglore and Kolkata, as well as the Mpower Cells at BITS Pilani, Hyderabad, Goa and BK Birla College, Kalyan. Aiding these efforts, the Mpower Foundation was set up to ensure that mental healthcare is accessible to anyone who needs it.

As part of our community outreach vertical, we’ve are running projects in collaborations with various civic bodies like the BMC, Mumbai Police, CISF and the government of Maharashtra to offer focused programs and counselling services. We also curate and conduct around awareness-driven workshops & training programmes for schools, colleges and corporates to provide information about mental health concerns to foster education and advocate prevention.

Our fourth vertical focuses on capacity building, offering training, imparting clinical skills and enhancing best practices to improve the skills of mental health professionals, especially in remote areas.

The fifth vertical is the Mpower Helpline, which is a 24×7 service (phone calls and live chat) that was launched during the pandemic. Through this we’ve been able to help over 80,000 people who’ve called in for help, and we’ve also been able to do outbound calls to support frontline workers during the pandemic. It has been a privilege and honour for us to take care of the mental health needs of the people who’ve been serving the country.

When we started Mpower, the challenge was to be able to get people to open up to the idea of mental health as a fundamental part of one’s holistic wellness. Over the past few years, we have seen a significant change in people’s attitudes about mental health and their willingness to seek help. This has been promising and gives one a sense of hope that together, we can make move the needle on mental health and make it an actionable priority. Going forward the ever moving target for us to increase our reach across all 5 verticals so that we can bring mental health care and awareness to the most number of people, across India.

References

A. Environmental Stewardship
To protect the environment, we organize programmes like mangrove nursery and Reforestation, Coastal and River Clean-Up, Community Based Environmental Solid Waste Management, Environmental IEC Campaign and Eco-Academy

B. Food Security and Sustainable Livelihood
To ensure a sustainable livelihood for the community, eco-tourism include Buhatan River Cruise Visitor Center Buhatan River Mangrove Boardwalk are run by the community. Others include Organic Vegetable and Root crops Farming, Vegetable and Root crops Chips and by-products Processing and establishing a Zero waste store.

C. Empowered Communities
To empower the community, we provide product and Agri-Enterprise Development Training, Immersion and Learnings Exchange Program, Earth Warrior Training and Community Based Social Entrepreneurship Training

Author

Neerja Birla

Member of the Asia Gender Network

Mrs Neerja Birla is a member of the Asia Gender Network. An inspiring personality, Mrs. Neerja Birla is a progressive, dynamic and versatile woman, driven by her passions and an unwavering resolve to give back to society responsibly.
A passionate educationist and a mental health champion, Mrs. Neerja Birla is the founder and chairperson of the Aditya Birla Education Trust (ABET), which endeavours to positively impact the lives of people from all sections of society and bring about progressive change, whether it is in the field of education or on the mental health landscape of India.

Under the ABET umbrella and Mrs. Birla’s dynamic leadership:

  • Mpower is a revolutionary movement that has brought about a paradigm shift in India’s attitude towards mental health by spreading awareness, alleviating stigma, and providing holistic and quality mental health care to individuals from all walks of life.
  • The Aditya Birla World Academy, an international school with an Indian soul that promotes the holistic development of its students over and above their academic ones, has been ranked the 2nd Best International School in all of India.
  • The Aditya Birla Integrated School, ranked the # 1 Special Needs School in the country, provides ground-breaking inclusive education to children with different learning or emotional needs.
  • The pioneering Aditya Birla Education Academy empowers educators by using state-of-the- art resources and tie-ups with renowned educational institutions from across the world to equip them with the avant-garde skills, tools and modes of 21st century teaching.

Mrs. Birla is the recipient of a multitude of Indian and international awards, including: 

  • The Business Today Most Powerful Women in Business Award (2020),
  • The 50 Top Global Mental Health Leaders Award by the World Mental Health Congress (2019), and
  •  The Global Impact Leader of the Year Award at the UK-based Private Wealth Institute’s Global Annual Summit (2018).

On a more personal note, Mrs. Birla holds a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in psychology from the University of Derby, lives in Mumbai, is married to Mr. Kumar Mangalam Birla and is the proud mother of three children – Ananyashree, Aryaman Vikram and Advaitesha.
She is also a committed fitness and outdoor-sports enthusiast, loves reading and listening to music, and is extremely fond of travelling and trekking.
A firm believer in the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, Mrs. Birla endeavours to find beauty in imperfection, impermanence and being incomplete. She aspires to be sthitpragya – being balanced and equanimous in an ongoing endeavour towards self-awareness and self-control.

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We see social investment as a continuum that encompasses everything from philanthropy and venture philanthropy to impact investing, CSR and sustainable investment. We call this the “Continuum of Capital”.

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