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Anubhuti works with youth and this is the population most in need of care and support. Suicide is the leading cause of death among India’s youth says a 2018 Lancet report. Social determinants that is gender, caste, sexuality, disability and so on play an important role in causing mental distress, as also agreed by the WHO; making youth from vulnerable backgrounds more susceptible. Mental Health literacy and access to literature and support among them is scarce shows our 2019 study with 1000 college students in Thane District, Maharashtra. The study shows that there is no comprehensive mental health program adopted across education or other youth spaces. To add to this, mainstream mental health interventions are developed & practiced by those not socially vulnerable, impacting the effectiveness and access for marginalized youth. The majority of research around mental health is written in a Western tongue that does not respond to the diversity and complexities of Indian society.

Taking ahead our Mental Justice concept, Anubhuti has started a rights-based, non-discriminatory and community-led mental justice program. As part of this, Anubhuti has created the unique ‘Mann Mela – A Mental Health Fair’. This is a games-based, entirely grassroot youth-led module, to take the concept of mental health to colleges, communities and other youth-related spaces in a fun, accessible way.

This module is created by founder Deepa Pawar – as a young woman from one of the most marginalized communities of India – a nomadic & denotified tribe. It is based on the format of ‘stall-based fairs’ used by various science movements and NGOs working on gender. Her lived experiences and development work of over 20 years with diverse youth and stakeholders have contributed to this module. It is a prevention-focused, games-based, user-led, locally adaptable, replicable module that approaches mental health as a social justice issue. It thus responds to both individual & social mental distress causes. 

The module is to be self-facilitated and used by marginalized youth for literacy, basic recovery strategies and information about resources for further help. It builds on art/play/humor therapy. It’s form is free from the stigma associated with typical mental health language, engages stakeholders and is for integration into education curricula & other youth-related settings. Its execution is highly adaptable to different cultures, can be created locally from scratch. It’s language, form, structure, messages, risk-mitigation, etc. are sensitive to their needs and is flexible enough to be regularly updated to incorporate feedback of users.

Our very first Mann Mela was conducted in 2018, at a women’s college in Mumbai. Since then it has been implemented by trained youth leaders in various schools and colleges. Following are a few feedback from implementing youth leaders as well as participating youth.

Implementing youth leaders:

  • “After today I am quite clear that mental health is very important to be discussed about. I can now organise a workshop on the subject.”
  • “We discussed on my stall how we cannot judge each other by our facial expressions – like those always smiling or extroverted are given more opportunities in class by the teacher and this is a form of discrimination.”
  • “One girl said she feels like she just not good enough as the other girls.. I never thought there would be so much sharing and girls would break down with their experiences.. I told them that there is no weakness in crying, it felt that they perhaps don’t have much space to cry about these matters. I am happy that we could provide this safe space for them to express. Many girls came to me even after the fair to talk and ask for help. I have referred few of them for further counselling.”

Participating youth:

  • “This is the first such fair I have seen, the first time I have laughed so much and really felt happy for a while.”
  • “I feel lonely sometimes, there is not so much support from home. I can now identify lot of negative emotions like sadness, fear which trouble me and can start working on them.”
  • “We could share our personal problems and they (youth leaders on the stalls) gave us practical solutions to work on those problems. I feel like I will personally benefit from those ideas.”
  • “We were asked certain questions which we found difficult to answer but we did answer them. And it was not limited to only answering, but we started thinking about those things. There are lot of emotions like rage, loneliness.. and even when we try to share these things we are mostly ignored which increases the ‘low’ feeling. This was a space where we were being taken very seriously and this gave the opportunity to take ourselves and our emotions seriously.”