JEET BAHADUR from India's Uttarakhand Cluster works for the only community mental health organisation in northern India, Project Burans. He's been telling us about his work, its challenges and rewards, and the importance of 'active listening'.
What do you do at Project Burans? My main role is to visit the field and give support and training on basic mental health. We train people from the community, to transfer our knowledge and empower them. And we have two sites: one rural up in the mountains, and one urban in the city of Dehradun.
What kind of training do you do? We cover what mental health is, the symptoms of common mental illness, and the symptoms of severe mental illness. And then the treatments. We show them that 80% of cases only need counselling, rather than medicine – but there are very few counsellors, especially in rural areas. So we give training on active listening. We also do some training on community development and community mobilisation.
What's active listening? Often, when you share your feelings with someone, they don't really listen to you. Instead they give you their advice. This doesn't work – it just gives more stress to the person sharing. That's because even though they might both have the same problem, they have different resources to solve these problems. Instead, we encourage and train people in active listening: this means just listening, and asking open questions, and it gets much better results.
Tell us one of your proudest achievements. We once supported a family that had broken down because of the father’s financial and mental health problems. With our encouragement and support the father and the family recovered well, and he got a job in a hotel. Some time later, I went into the hotel. I saw him, and at first I didn’t recognise him, because of the way he was standing, the way he was dressed. He was more confident and more happy. It made me proud. It shows that with a little support, we can save not just a person, but an entire family. And this can be a model for the entire community too.
What's the hardest thing about your work? People don't understand what mental health is. There is a really strong belief that mental illness is a curse, or the result of “black magic”. We’re working to fight these superstitions. Another challenge is that we are not a livelihood project: if someone has a mental health problem due to livelihood, we can help them recover, but they will be in the same position if they don’t have a job.
How does being in the Cluster benefit your work? We work with Cluster partners to train their staff in mental health, and we encourage them to integrate mental health into their projects. Also, because they have already built up the relationship with the communities they serve, it means that we can have greater impact in a shorter amount of time, because we don't need to work on building up those community relationships - it's already there.
How do you relax when you're not working? I love cycling. I go early each morning, and on weekends I go for longer cycle rides in a group. It makes my stress goes down! I work on converting my negative thoughts into positive thoughts, talking to myself, and praying.
You can also meet Kaaren from Project Burans here.