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Anubhuti Charitable Trust’s mental health programme offers support at a critical stage in students' lives

Four of every 10 students experience depression and one student dies by suicide every hour. Yet, schools and colleges in India are poorly equipped to deal with students' mental health issues. Anubhuti Charitable Trust is trying to change that with its Mental Health Justice in Higher Education programme.

600 million, that's half of India's population, is under 25 years of age. A majority of them come from vulnerable backgrounds, socially and economically. Many of them struggle to access financial support to finish their education, one of the many triggers for emotional distress. It especially affects girls, many of whom drop out of the education system.

It was a similar experience that led Deepa Pawar, founder of the NGO Anubhuti Charitable Trust, and her team to start the Mental Health Justice on Higher Education programme in colleges in Mumbai and Thane districts. Formed and led by women, Anubhuti works actively among marginalised communities in these areas, the focus being to offer services in a non-discriminatory manner, develop youth leadership and gender equity for vulnerable sections in rural and urban areas.

Mental health is a strong focus of Anubhuti's work and encountering feelings of anxiety, humiliation, guilt, and self-blame among youth from these communities led the NGO to start a programme that aims to better equip schools and colleges to improve mental well-being as well as find ways to address causes of psycho-social distress in the education system.

Anubhuti implements a rights-based, intersectional, feminist training module of mental health which is sensitive to socio-political backgrounds of the student-clients and which trains school teachers to implement a school-based counselling program for their students. - Deepa Pawar, Founder, Anubhuti Charitable Trust

Encouraging students to come forward and seek help can be challenging. There's a fear of being judged and labelled. To help overcome this, Anubhuti conducts Mann Melas: Mental Health Fairs that are designed to encourage help-seeking behaviours in students, their parents, and the communities they live in. The school counselling programme includes a resource directory and referral networks with mental health services.

The impact these interventions are making is evident in the testimonials shared by many students in colleges.

"Please continue this work with youth. We have many problems, we need to learn how to deal with them, how to solve them by focusing on them. Suicide is never the last option."

"The activity where we understood the social situation and therefore mental situation of people who are ostracized from society was thought-provoking."

"I am facing so many problems leading to a lot of anger in me. This session was very useful for me".

"It feels empowering to know that it is legitimate to think and talk about our mental health, and to create that same space for others."

Among the main factors affecting mental health among youth are increased competition, job insecurity, social insecurity, gender and disability, to name a few. Some interesting findings have also emerged from these interventions in terms of data, which offer valuable insights on the nature and extent of interventions needed.

Important findings

To share a few, trainings and data collection among 500 college students across Kalyan, Dombivali, Ulhasnagar, Ambernath, Badlapur and Karjat showed that 75% could not answer what they understand by sexual violence/harassment. Many were unable to answer what they would do to protect themselves and not a single young woman said she would approach the college ICC (Internal Complaints Committee) if she felt unsafe. Another study among 1,000 students showed that 95% youth knew of at least one suicide in close circles.

"Sexual violence and harassment in educational environments also prevents young girls and women from accessing higher education" as Deepa pointed out in an interview to Rise Up. "Despite their major social and economic contributions to their communities, women and girls are not in positions of leadership".

Anubhuti also actively supports community youth on a case by case basis to access education. "We provide scholarships to vulnerable youth every year, as part of our counselling support for them to complete higher education", says Amrita De, a core team member at Anubhuti. "This is irrespective of how well they score in exams, the criteria are social vulnerability and the commitment to continue in education".

Reach Anubhuti Charitable Trust here

Also Read: Bridge the Gap campaign seeks to make mental health an election issue in the 2019 elections

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