For the last couple of years, life for D. Shanmugam from Tamil Nadu and his wife has entirely been centred around their only daughter. Things were different once, some would term it as better. They were a normal, happy family, with grand aspirations for their daughter. “After passing the 11th grade, she suddenly started getting reclusive.
There were distinct signs of depression. At one point, she even stopped talking or eating properly. Things worsened over time. She complained of someone in her mind asking her too many questions. She would pester us for answers to those endless vague questions,” shares Shanmugam, who has now made peace with his daughter’s struggle with mental health. “We try our best to give her the best care. We make sure she gets her medication every day on time. I have also introduced her to Manavalakalai Yoga which is helping her to calm down,” he reveals.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
But, amid the tumultuous journey over the past few years, Shanmugam has one grievance. “Nobody helped us when we needed it the most. I filed applications after applications, imploring government authorities to provide some support for my daughter. They gave me false assurances. Nobody came,” he still laments. His own harrowing experience with the government at the time of utmost need has prompted Shanmugam to be one of the first ones to sign the Bridge The Care Gap petition – an election-centric campaign which urges each and every political party to include mental health care in their respective election manifestos.
Why Bridge The Care Gap campaign stands out
Launched by Mumbai-based Mariwala Health Initiative, Bridge The Care Gap campaign has already garnered over 10,000 signatories which include survivors, caregivers, psychiatrists, non-profit organisations and illustrious personalities who are unabashed advocates of mental health care. Among the political parties, Indian National Congress and CPI(M) have given firm assurances to prioritise the implementation of the Mental Health Care Act at the outset.
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Statistics reveal how critical the mental health scenario in India actually is at present. The 2016 National Mental Health Survey estimated that 15% of the Indian population is affected by some mental health issue or other, needing clinical intervention. The figure might not look concerning until we realise that it translates to a whopping 130 million people across India. WHO estimates reveal that one in every four people in the world is bound to experience some mental health issue in their lifetime. Yet, the Indian government allocates less than 1% of its yearly budget on mental health care. Though in 2017, the promising Mental Health Care Act was chalked out, its on-ground implementation is yet to be seen.
“Our policymakers are still reactive to mental health issues, rather than take proactive action. The Government tends to see mental health only as a health issue, but if you speak to the public you will realise that they see it more as an inter-sectoral issue. For instance, people realise the need to reform education and examination systems to prevent/reduce teenage suicides,” observes Dr Soumitra Pathare, a renowned psychiatrist associated with many campaigns surrounding mental health, including Bridge The Care Gap.
Putting mental health on election manifestos
In conversation with Efforts For Good, Harsh Mariwala, founder of Mariwala Health Initiative (MHI), informs, “Our premise is simple: mental health is as important as physical health. This means that the government should appropriate budget for mental health services (beyond the current 0.6% that is being spent) and ensure quality service delivery on the ground. This translates into more trained mental health professionals, better mental health care facilities, affordable services and easier availability of necessary medication.”
He emphasises the importance of political involvement in the mental health sector. “None of this will happen without political will. Hence, an advocacy campaign like #BridgeTheCareGap was required — especially at a time when political parties are formulating their agenda and prioritising development issues for the elections. We want mental health on their manifestos and within the political purview,” Mr Mariwala asserts.
Some parties were proactive, others not so much
“To achieve the required objectives, we have approached all major political parties and did not leave out anyone, since our campaign is apolitical at its core,” shares Dr Pathare. Challenges were there, he admits. While in some cases, it was a cakewalk to interact with the top of the party hierarchy and patiently explain the petition to them, in other instances, it was almost impossible to get through.
“As of now, two parties, Indian National Congress and the CPI (M), have included mental health in their agenda and both have promised to implement the Act and the policy. There’s not much more detail in the manifestos at this stage, but we can flesh out the details with them when the opportunity arises,” he informs.
Once the 2019 LokSabha Elections are done and dusted, the campaigners also aim to carry forward their petition into the upcoming legislative elections in different states over the next few years.
Michelle’s story upholds the importance of Bridge The Care Gap
Four days before her 18th birthday, Michelle Silvera lost her father. Devastated, she started blaming herself for his sudden demise. “I thought since this has happened right before my birthday, it must be due to something I did wrong. I must have been a bad daughter,” Michelle opens up. Slowly, and helplessly, she found herself trapped in a vortex of negative thoughts. Doctors identified her condition as Schizophrenia and clinical depression.
“At the hospital, I underwent a very rigorous treatment. I have never imagined that I would have to endure such turmoil in my life,” reveals Michelle, who is eternally grateful to Manav Foundation for helping her overcome the worst phase of her life. Through a series of counselling sessions and creative therapies, the Mumbai-based rehabilitation centre helped Michelle to emerge triumphant at the end of her prolonged battle.
Manav Foundation is one of the collaborative associates in the #BridgeTheCareGap campaign, along with the Center for Mental Health Law & Policy, Anjali Mental Health Rights Organization, Anubhuti Trust, Schizophrenia Awareness Association. Some other stakeholders in the consortium include The Live Love Laugh Foundation, White Swan Foundation, Banyan, Society for Nutrition, Iswar Sankalpa, Bipolar India, Patients Engage – almost all prominent national organisations actively working in the mental health sector.
“As part of this campaign, we reached out to multiple organisations who do not exclusively work on mental health – but on child rights, women’s rights, law and policy, LGBTQ concerns, human rights and livelihood – the issues often intrinsically related to mental health. Approximately 50 organisations have endorsed this petition and supported it by publicising materials or sharing details with the communities they work in,” shares Ara Johannes, Communications Manager at Mariwala Health Initiative.
Efforts For Good take
“For mental health issues, I cannot say that medication is better than therapy or vice versa. But, the main need is for support. By support, I mean compassion, care and empathy,” believes Ratnaboli Ray, the founder of Anjali Mental Health Rights Organization, and herself a survivor of depression.
Persistent social stigma and traditional taboos surrounding mental health only make it harder for sufferers to survive, many of whom seek solace in ending their lives. Society indeed needs to alter the age-old outlook towards mental health, but that cannot be ensured overnight. To usher in a social change, it takes time and continuous efforts from all levels, particularly the ruling administration. Unless and until mental health features in the priority list of the government, the promising Mental Health Care Act 2017 would cease to be of value, putting many more lives in jeopardy. This is where lies the significance of Bridge The Care Gap campaign, which is the standalone initiative on mental health at the policymaking level. It provides the light of hope to thousands of silent sufferers whose voice gets lost amidst the hype and hullabaloo of mainstream political doctrines.
“I invite all of you to come to join us in this nationwide campaign to prioritise mental health,” Mr Mariwala appeals to all Indians. Sign the petition today and spread the word: http://www.bridgethecaregap.com/
Rahul Khera and Gautam Jindal, volunteers (aka hunger heroes) at Feeding India, were among the many Delhi NCR residents accustomed to seeing hungry children pick up half-eaten burgers or stale sandwiches from the dustbin and savour those with the brightest smiles. Like many others, they also had the will to promote equitable food distribution but was perplexed about the approach, until they learnt about the community fridge initiative which has gained unprecedented success in Saudi Arabia and few other European countries. Meanwhile, community fridges were already being installed outside restaurants or in public places in a handful of cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore and Kochi.
Thank you for overwhelming response for the Happy Fridge concept. We need more funds from you to install more fridges like this across India. With the limited funds avaialble Feeding India was able to install three fridges only. Kindly donate here http://bit.ly/happyfridge
Needless to mention, with a shocking 103rd rank in the Global Hunger Index and a food wastage estimate of around Rs 58,000 crore – India was perhaps the best country to implement such an initiative. With Gautam’s help, an enthusiastic Rahul invested his own savings to install a ‘Happy Fridge’ outside his residence at Sun City, Sector 54 in Gurgaon. Set up in 2017 by these Feeding India volunteers, the fridge in Gurgaon has inspired the NGO to scale up the project across India.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
‘Happy Fridge’ fostered many smiles
It didn’t take long for the local residents to learn about this laudable endeavour. They welcomed it, as wastage of excess food was a recurring problem in almost every household. “Intimating the localities was no mammoth task, thanks to social media. However, it was difficult to spread the word among those who actually needed the food,” shares Rahul, who went from auto stands to slums, inviting rickshaw pullers, ragpickers or roadside vendors to avail the community fridge any time they feel hungry. “The security guards of our residential complex played a huge role in explaining how the fridge works to the beneficiaries,” he adds.
The operational and maintenance costs of the ‘ happy fridge ‘ are being maintained diligently by the community members.
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“I remember one young man who had arrived from a village looking for some menial day job. Somehow he had run out of his paltry savings and had no money to buy one decent meal a day. For about a month, our happy fridge was his solace, till he earned his first salary from a housekeeping job,” shares a jubilant Rahul.
In another incident, a truck driver returning in the wee hours of midnight was starving after a whole day’s hard work. He had run out of cooking fuel at his home, so our fridge was at his rescue.
“The residents keep all sorts of palatable dishes in the happy fridge, ranging from dry snacks, fruits to cooked meals. Sometimes, they even keep raw vegetables, to ensure not a single bit of good food ends up in their trash while other people go hungry to bed,” reveals Rahul.
On an average, each happy fridge supplies around 10-15 meals in a day. The gratitude and pure smiles of the hungry souls after a fulfilling meal are more than enough to continue to motivate Rahul and his neighbours. In fact, inspired by him, many other communities in the Delhi-NCR region set up community fridges in their areas.
Since the past few years, Feeding India has been a prominent organisation working in the forefront to solve the hunger problem in India. Primarily, they were involved in redistributing leftover food from weddings and parties among the underprivileged people in different cities of India. Their volunteers, better known as “Hunger Heroes of India”, worked actively to bridge the gap between food wastage and food crisis.
“We used to get a lot of calls from individual households to collect their excess food. However, unfortunately, we lacked the manpower and planning to launch our programme on a door to door basis. We were desperately looking for an alternative when we learnt about the community fridges,” shares Srishti Jain, co-founder of Feeding India.
After interacting with Rahul Khera and other campaigners of community fridges, Feeding India decided to amplify this extraordinary project throughout the length and breadth of India. Presently, they have launched the #FightFoodWaste campaign to install 500 community fridges – nicknamed ‘ Happy Fridge ’. So any passer-by – be it a kid going to school without a lunchbox, or a labourer returning home late at night with no promise of a dinner – can now grab a pack of biscuits or a bowl of ‘dal-chawal’ (rice & lentil soup) to satiate their hunger. Click here to contribute for ‘ Happy Fridge ‘ and ensure India never sleeps hungry again.
Feeding India also urges everyone to make a promise to stop wasting food and instead consider donating it to those in need.