According to the World Health Organisation, at least 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have mental disorders or problems. According to surveys conducted in India, it is estimated that at least 20% of the entire population will suffer from various kinds of mental illnesses at least once during their entire life span. In fact, it is predicted that mental health issues will soon be the single largest cause for loss of productivity in organisations.
While this is one side of the story, the flipside is that the number of qualified mental health professionals in the country is abysmally low. Surveys reveal that are only 4,500 to 6,000 psychiatrists in the entire country! Considering that most of these professionals are based in Tier 1 and at best a few in Tier 2 cities, there is definitely a huge gap in the demand and supply with respect to mental healthcare. While there are various institutes that offer solutions for mental illnesses of various kinds, research in the mental healthcare sector showed that the fundamental issue was the lack of access to knowledge about mental health illnesses.
In order to cater to this critical problem, a not-for-profit organisation called White Swan Foundation for Mental Health was established in 2014. “It is crucial that common people are empowered with knowledge so that they can take the right decisions when faced with a mental health issue” says Manoj Chandran, chief executive officer, White Swan Foundation.
Creating knowledge and awareness is all the more important due to the huge social stigma attached to mental health illnesses. In fact, a recent survey by National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) showed that 85% of the people with mental health problems do not seek help. Given that this cycle of self-denial, struggling and coping with the problem is a vicious one, knowledge dissemination to all stakeholders is of paramount importance. The prime focus of the White Swan Foundation is offering knowledge services in the area of mental health.
The team at White Swan is actually a group of dedicated communication professionals who collaborate with organisations and individuals to create the best-in-class knowledge on mental health. The key differentiating factor is the involvement of all stakeholders which includes the person affected, the caregiver and the society at large.
According to Manoj, the latter is extremely important as the right attitude of the society towards such patients is vital to the resolution of the problem. The team partners with organisations like NIMHANS, medical professionals, patients, caregivers and relatives to create content that is not just restricted to the clinical or physiological aspects. By also focusing on the sociological aspects, White Swan’s unique communication of the knowledge complements the work of the actual service providers.
The medium of communication is their website. It is a treasure house of content in various forms like stories, cartoons, videos and infographics. It has over 600 pieces relating to mental health. Apart from English, content is also available in Hindi, Kannada, Bengali, Tamil and Malayalam.
In an attempt to educate the general public, the foundation works with a number of colleges, students, teachers and other non-profit organisations. They also conduct classes, create communication campaigns. Afterwards, feedback is solicited from these stakeholders. This way an awareness and a positive attitude are built around the importance of mental health. Since this is also a personal subject, White Swan has created an independent platform called Moving Minds to create an element of openness while talking about such issues.
Through this, the organisation uses tools like storytelling to encourage public participation. “We do these events monthly and have tackled topics like ‘Migration and Mental Health’. These sessions are interactive and also see participation from professionals who are available to answer the questions” says Manoj.
It is indeed an innovative mechanism and they recently did an event in collaboration with Yakshagana performers to throw light on suicide.