North East Cluster in India, which launched in 2018, is one of our newest Clusters. IMLIBENLA MONGRO is a mental health professional who lives in Dimapur in Nagaland, one of the four states that make up the Cluster. She told us about her new role as Cluster Coordinator and her hopes for the future.
Tell us about how you got involved in the Cluster. The hospital that I work with is already in Arukah Network, so that’s how I heard about it. As Cluster Coordinator I've been organising meetings, trying to connect with people. I was excited to take up this type of role because I’ve never done this before – trying to coordinate between networks. It’s challenging, but I have a lot of help from other people, so it’s going well.
You’re a mental health professional. Is there stigma around mental health in Nagaland? There is. A lot of my patients are apprehensive about talking to me. I don’t work in a psychiatric hospital – it’s a general hospital, so most of my patients come with other problems and are referred to me. People are a little ignorant about mental health. They think that it’s a curse, or that it’s because of their sins or the sins of their parents. There’s a lot of misinformation surrounding this, and people go into depression fearing stigma.
Do you think that being involved in the Cluster will help you with your work? Yes. I’m taking it in the view that this might at least help with awareness. We could start off at the grassroots level, try to do a lot of awareness programmes, try to educate people; get them to talk to openly about mental health issues, instead of in a ‘hush hush’ manner. If more people are open and bold and very upfront about it, I think that will reduce the stigma a lot.
What are the main challenges facing the Cluster? One of the biggest challenges would be the geography. Members are spread out. Also, many of the members are really busy people, so it’s difficult to coordinate with them. I can feel a little overwhelmed. I’ve never done this before, especially dealing with people internationally and people I’ve not met personally. I'm learning a lot.
How do you see your work in North East Cluster developing? One of my aims is that the North East Cluster will grow, and that in the future, each state in the North East will have their own Cluster. Because in every state, there are so many member organisations. If in our state, Nagaland, the large numbers of NGOs and faith-based organisations can work together, then we could grow as a Cluster on our own, and then we could help other states in the North East to have their own Clusters.
So there’s a lot of potential for growth in your region? There is. Because people actually have a heart to help one another. It’s been there from the start; we just don’t know yet how to tap resources from each other. We want to do away with individualism, so that we can grow together as a community. Even though we might have different priorities as organisations – some with disability, some with healthcare, some with home-based interventions, some with agriculture – I think we can all learn from each other in one way or another, and that’s what I want to see in the near future.
It all sounds really exciting. Of course there are challenges along the way, but do you feel excited? Yes. This role has actually made me think globally. Before, I was just worried about the next person that I’d interact with and how I could help that person. But I never imagined that I would be doing things with impact on society at large, or that I could do anything to reach out to people across borders. I never thought that I would be doing that. So this made me think bigger, and I’m grateful for this role.
Do you feel it’s impacted you personally, as well as professionally? It has. Since being in the Cluster, whenever I meet other people, I’m even more interested in other ways in which I can help them. For example, if a patient is coming from an organisation, I want to know about the organisation – and then I’m always thinking, how can we connect it to Arukah? Arukah is in the back of my mind. It’s not just that they’re my patient so they should be learning from me – that’s not what I want. I would love to learn from them as well, and connect with them even outside the office. Arukah has made me desire that we do that.
As a mental health professional, what do you do to look after your own wellbeing? Sometimes I go home and I’m unable to forget some of the profound and sad stories that my patients tell me. Sometimes it’s really difficult, and it does affect me a lot. And it’s so important that I have to maintain my own mental health. Outside work, I love playing badminton, and I love reading a lot, and I love playing with my dog! That’s really important to my mental wellbeing. I watch movies, and I love music. I sing occasionally. Personally, when it comes to spiritual life, family, friends, and work circle, I feel like I’m in a good place, and I’m thankful to God for that.
Thank you so much for talking to us, Imlibenla. We're lucky to have you in Arukah Network!
To learn more about North East Cluster, check out their Cluster page or this interview with Cluster Mobiliser Sedevi.