Mental health organisation Mpower has impacted 17 million people through awareness sessions and therapy in the last three years, says Neerja Birla, who co-founded the social enterprise with her daughter Ananya Birla to create awareness and alleviate stigma around mental health.
“Mental health is quite a taboo topic in India. It is a part of our lives and has to be tackled. Just because it cannot be seen as other physical disorders doesn’t mean it can be ignored. It is high time we stop wishing it away,” says Birla.
The company works through three verticals to bring about this change. It has The Movement which is to spread awareness and improve understanding of mental health through events, digital campaigns so it became a part of public discourse and people start speaking up about the issues they are facing. Then the organisation has The Centre, which offers diagnostics, treatment and counselling for psychological and psychiatric conditions such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse amongst others. Then there is The Foundation that provides all the services of The Centre but at a subsidised cost to economically backward sections of society. A counselling session there can cost as low as Rs 50. Currently the enterprise has three offline service centres – The Centre and The Foundation in South Mumbai. It also has a Cell in BITS Pilani in Goa to help students with depression, anxiety, panic attacks etc.
“Providing all the three services simultaneously is important. If you create awareness around mental health, you need to have infrastructure to provide support. If you offer services, you need to create awareness so that people avail the facilities,” says Birla.
However, it hasn’t been an easy ride. Birla says that schools and corporates are open to the idea but there are hardly any conversations. “I think that’s because having mental health cell or workshops means they are admitting that there is a problem with the people in their organisation.”
“Among 200 schools in Mumbai Mpower approached, only 5-10 agreed for workshops that focus on helping people understand mental health, identify the issues and how to tackle them in family and friends,” she adds.
Companies might be turning a blind eye but people are flocking to the Centre. They do around 400 sessions a month. Their team of 40 now plans to open The Centre in Bangalore by early next year followed by another one in Delhi. Next on the cards would be to expand The Foundation to tier 2 and tier 3 cities.
Mpower is a social enterprise registered under The Aditya Birla Education Trust.