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/
At thirteen, Neela was married off to a husband much older than her. At sixteen, she became a mother, and at nineteen, she was a widow. Despite having no regular income, she was faced with the daunting task of taking care of her in-laws, her own parents and of course, her little daughter. For young Neela, life has never known a trajectory where her voice is heard and her destiny is not blamed. That was until she came under the ambit of Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation and discovered a new identity for herself. The taste of financial independence was indeed delightful for her, but her zeal to work hard for a newer, better life stood at the helm of it all.
No one has ever become poor by giving – Anne Frank
Founded by Kameshwari from Bengaluru, the foundation works with distressed women in three Karnataka villages, helping them to earn their livelihood by handcrafting a wide range of decorative or daily-use household items. Like Neela, nineteen women with struggles similar or worse, have found a new lease of life at Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation. Every piece of item created at Hosa Belaku is recycled from leftover fabrics, paper, dry waste or scrap metals.
Hosa Belaku – a new dawn
“I have been working in the social sector for the past two decades. Since 2013, I got associated with Belaku Trust, who was working with rural women in Karnataka,” shares Kameshwari, a former legal executive.
“Most of these women were victims of alcohol abuse and harassment on the domestic front. Some were widowed, single mothers or differently-abled – making life all the more hard for them in a patriarchal society. Unfortunately, circumstances led Belaku Trust to close their operations in 2015. The women were left in a lurch,” she narrates.
Some of these women desperately pleaded with Kameshwari to let them sustain their only source of income and independence. Moved by their plight, Kameshwari resolved to do her best to help as many women as possible. Investing a sizeable proportion of her own savings, she launched the Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation in 2017. At present, the foundation has active workshops in three villages in the suburbs of Bengaluru, namely, Halasuru, Achalu and Kadahalli.
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At the prime of her life, Pavithra’s husband left her for another woman. Heartbroken and devastated, she was clueless about how to earn her living. The story is similar for many other women in these villagers, with careless, abusive or estranged husbands, most being alcohol addicts. The pangs of poverty would sometimes become more unbearable than the constant physical abuse by their husbands. Yet, they had no way to have some respite from the ordeal. Few women did work seasonally as agricultural labourers. The backbreaking toil in the sun would take a toll on their health, while the deplorable situation at their homes would haunt them for the rest of the year.
Kameshwari mortgaged her jewelery for Rs 6 lakh to start Hosa Belaku Artisian's Foundation. Most of the women employed in this foundation face domestic violence in their homes. Kindly donate here : bit.ly/hosabelaku
Society, with its primitive doctrines, only made it worse for these women. For instance, nobody was willing to marry Shivlingi because she had a facial deformity. After a point, her own brothers abandoned her as if she had become a liability.
If one visits these women now, they would be found basking in their newfound success with Hosa Belaku. But, not only the women, Hosa Belaku’s workforce comprises a 19-year-old young man as well. All his life, Yogi, who is affected by Polio, had accompanied his mother everywhere. She used to work with the foundation until she recently passed away in an accident. Yogi’s father is visually-challenged, so the entire family received a major emotional and financial setback after his mother’s sudden demise. A helpless Yogi would painstakingly drag himself from door to door in search of work. “We took him in and trained him in toy-making. Now you would find him in a corner, making beautiful toys for children,” shares a proud Kameshwari.
Sunshine, Lamp and Dawn – Illuminating lives
The women groups at the three villages are designated with three unique names and assigned with a unique task each. Kirana (Sunshine), the group at Kadahalli is involved with paper products, making notepads, bags and jewellery.
The Halsuru group Deepa (Lamp) has adopted the art of block printing. Vibrant, stylish and beautiful handbags, cushion covers, stoles and notebooks are curated with the utmost care and precision by the women.
At Ushe (Dawn), needle and thread rules. Women who were already skilled in sewing and embroidery now earn by making stuffed toys, patchwork products and embroidered fabrics.
True to their names, the groups have indeed brought new light into the lives of their employees.
Suma and Jayamma are both senior workers at Kirana who have succeeded in constructing small concrete houses for themselves, a huge step up from the dilapidated huts they spent their youth in. Another aged lady in the same group has another compelling achievement to be proud of. Bearing the taunts and trauma from her drunkard husband all her life, she has single-handedly raised a son and a daughter with proper education. Her son, who is currently an aspiring engineer, was supported with a laptop from Hosa Belaku. Honamma, a young widow from the group Deepa is treading a similar path, raising her son all on her own.
The only solace
How much gratitude these women have towards Hosa Belaku is perhaps evident from Shri’s unwavering dedication. Diabetes is taking a toll on her eyesight yet she refuses to give up and continues etching her grit on the ornate block-printed fabrics.
The reason for such gratitude is manifold. For the conscious urban consumers, Hosa Belaku is striving to save the environment with their 100%-recycled policy. But, for the workers, it is the lifeline which not only offers them economic security but also allows them a place to voice, share and resolve the problems plaguing their lives.
“They come here and find a peaceful break from their household obligations. Some still face domestic violence regularly, the workshop is an escape for them. They discuss their issues and try to find feasible solutions. It takes the load off their tired minds. The work here is a breath of fresh air for them,” Kameshwari asserts.
“We have been assisted time and again by established non-profits and retail chains across Bengaluru, who have graciously showcased and marketed products made by our artisans. We would like more people to know about Hosa Belaku and its incredible women, and respect their brilliant spirit by purchasing their crafts,” Kameshwari expresses her wish.