Love And Laughter To The Rescue
An NGO founded by actor Deepika Padukone is giving voice to mental health issues in IndiaBy Aatika H Jain
I was 18 when I suffered from depression and anxiety. When triggered, I ended up having panic attacks. This turned my world upside down,” says Ujwala. She started cutting herself as a means to escape from the mental torment. Later, she went on to find the courage to tell her family about her suffering and seek professional help. According to WHO, India has the highest number of depression cases across the world. The high rate of incidences of depression and anxiety-related disorders in the country potentially means that someone you know is struggling with mental health issues. And yet you may hardly ever hear anyone mentioning seeing a therapist. The reason lies in the social stigma attached to mental illnesses. The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF), based in Bengaluru, is working tirelessly to give a platform to people fighting mental health problems, helping them speak up about their hardship and seek professional help, besides providing them access to an extensive knowledge base. Finding the light In February 2014, actor Deepika Padukone found herself feeling inexplicably low, empty and purposeless. Professionally, she was at the peak of her career. Emotionally, she was suffering from anxiety and depression. Reading about depression made her realize how pervasive the problem was. Come 2015, she came out to the world with her struggles with anxiety and depression, hoping that it would help others in speaking up and seeking help. She established The Live Love Laugh Foundation six months later. “According to WHO, this is the next big epidemic to hit the world! However, most people do not seek help because society has stigmatized depression such that most people do not reveal the agony they themselves or their loved ones are going through for fear of being branded as weak or mad,” says Deepika.
The foundation focuses on three kinds of mental health issues: anxiety, depression, and stress. Its website has comprehensive easy to- understand information on the three and an extensive referral list of therapists that people can go to for professional help. It also runs several programs to spread awareness about mental health issues. “Our flagship school program, You Are Not Alone, aimed at educating adolescent students on stress, anxiety, and depression has continued to expand. Currently, the program is delivered in five languages,” says Anisha Padukone, Director, TLLLF. “Given the alarming rates of mental illness and teenage suicides in India, we believe that this initiative can act as critical support to students.” It has covered 427 schools across India, educating 13,145 teachers and 84,949 students. Expansion plans comprise extending its scope to include parents and guardians, and students from reform homes, making the content region-specific and reaching out to smaller towns and cities. Another program, called Together Against Depression, focuses on training general physicians in providing support to their patients. More than 2,000 doctors have been reached out to, under this program. The NGO also launched a public awareness campaign on depression called Dobara Poocho across the country. TLLF collaborated with APD (Association of People with Disability) in 2016 to offer psychiatric help and support recovery of Persons with Mental Illness (PwMIs). Treatment camps and surveys were conducted and the NGO was able to connect with 819 PwMIs from Harihara, Bengaluru, Harapanahalli and Davanagere taluks. Utilizing Goonjan, a software for NGOs, a database of these PwMIs was built. The APD hosts health/residential camps every month in these talks and trains ASHA workers, health officials and auxiliary nurses/midwives at primary healthcare centers. This initiative has been an important milestone in the area of national mental healthcare. “I have witnessed the impact firsthand, from survivors and their family members, at the Rural Mental Health Programme, which we support in Davanagere,” says Deepika. The NGO joined forces with Facebook to release a set of suicide prevention tools on social media. The foundation has also partnered with NIMHANS to help psychiatrists in their bi-monthly visits to Davanagere. Last March, TLLLF released a landmark national survey report, titled ‘How India Perceives Mental Health’. “This research initiative is part of our ongoing efforts to build a better understanding of mental health in our country. Our research shows that only over a quarter of the respondents are willing to be supportive in many aspects, while the remaining are either judgmental or fearful of those affected with mental illness,” states Deepika. “This is an extremely unfortunate situation for us to be in. It is absolutely critical that we as a society work together towards increasing awareness, reducing stigma and normalizing the need to seek support for mental illness.” “Key findings from this report provide an important pointer to the strategies that need to be adopted in the future— both by TLLLF as well as other stakeholders in the ecosystem,” adds Anisha.
Miles to go
TLLF plans to continue expanding its awareness programs to reach newer areas and wider audiences and to translate the program into more local languages. It aims to create a national database of mental healthcare professionals, to develop helplines in collaboration with healthcare experts, and promote research which will facilitate devising local solutions. “We believe our mission to spark the right conversations on mental health and support those in need has shaped many lives—including the lives of everyone at TLLLF—in profound and powerful ways,” affirms Anisha. “We will stay sharply focused on driving measurable outcomes and making a positive difference to the lives of those around us. We wish to continue to work collaboratively so we can all live, love, and laugh together,” adds Deepika
“WE WILL STAY SHARPLY FOCUSED ON DRIVING MEASURABLE OUTCOMES AND MAKING A POSITIVE DIFFERENCE TO THE LIVES OF THOSE AROUND US. WE WISH TO CONTINUE TO WORK COLLABORATIVELY SO WE CAN ALL LIVE, LOVE, AND LAUGH TOGETHER.”
Founder, The Live Love Laugh Foundation