Mental illness is still considered a taboo subject in many parts of Indian society. This regressive attitude can make things worse for the patients, who often don’t get access to the treatment they need because of societal pressures and judgements. A Noida-based data-driven healthcare service is attempting to change this scenario, one patient at a time.
In August 2014, when Rajiv was interning as a clinical psychologist with Dr. S. A. Basir, a Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, he came in touch with Shazia (name changed), a 27-year-old married lady with two small girls. She complained of repetitive episodes of dullness, lack of energy, and disengagement—all typical signs of chronic depression. When she walked into the clinic, she had a hauntingly poignant face – lifeless, emotionless, and deprived of all vital energy.
She was accompanied by her 65-year-old widowed mother, as her husband didn’t consider her condition an illness. He thought this was Shazia’s weakness and fault. This further aggravated Shazia’s condition.
As per the golden norm of treatment, both psychotherapy and pharmacology intervention were done, and results were visible in the next visit itself.
In her next visit, she was a cheerful young lady in a bright salwar kameez and red lipstick, far from her demeanor in the previous visit. But, she was anxious about the cost of consultation and therapy, as she didn’t have any money of her own and was financially supported by her mother. Further, she was afraid to come alone, and it was difficult for her frail mother to accompany her each time. Rajiv asked her if she could bring her husband in the next session. She went quiet and pale.
Her expression made it apparent that it would not be possible.
She slowly dropped out of therapy, and just continued with the medicine. She also hinted about having another baby because of family pressure. The treatment team advised her to wait for some time before taking such a decision, as she needed time to heal. But they had doubts if she would have the strength to make such a resolution. They could clearly foresee that the next pregnancy would distress Shazia further, and also have a negative impact on her two small children.
Shazia continues to visit Rajiv and Dr. Basir, in a far more aggravated condition, and today, she has four small children, and a husband who has become totally detached from her.
Rajiv and Dr. Basir encountered many cases like Shazia, where mental illness was considered a matter of shame and weakness. The patients dropped out of treatment because of its high cost, and lack of family support.
In such cases, the duo felt that their hands were tied. They just didn’t have the tools and means to handle such cases. This prompted Rajiv, along with Dr. Basir and Siddhant Khurana, to start Mind Piper, a social enterprise with the vision of providing timely mental healthcare to all.
They are trying to bridge the gap between the clinic and the community to address the needless adversity caused due to treatable mental illnesses.
Mind Piper is an inclusive, managed healthcare organization. They provide economical and data-driven mental health services in community settings. The average consultation fees of an experienced Psychologist and Psychiatrist combined, in Delhi, is ₹2,000. Mind Piper has brought that cost down to ₹400 by efficient use of technology, and doing everything it takes to ensure that the patient recovers fully. Their efforts have started to show positive results, with improved treatment efficacy and adherence by the patients.
The team strong believes that a strong partnership approach is needed to break the silence towards mental illnesses in India. They work closely with Lady Irwin College, Richmond Fellowship Society (India), Ambedkar University Delhi, and other NGOs in this sector to formulate strong community engagement and mental health awareness programmes.
The social enterprise is spearheaded by Siddhant Khurana, who was 23 years old when he started working on this initiative. Siddhant’s journey is a testament to the quote, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” He has found his ‘why’ to live for in the mental health cause. In his opinion, mental illness has always been a “Cinderella”, the poor relative, while physical illnesses are given priority.
Mental illness is considered a character flaw, a personal failing, or a deficiency, and not an illness.
Siddhant and his team are working tirelessly to debunk these myths and stereotypes towards mental illness, and to make mental health treatment accessible to many others like Shazia. Siddhant’s also a Fellow at the School for Social Entrepreneurs India, supported by PwC India, which has helped him gain remarkable acumen in leading a social enterprise.
Siddhant chose to work on this project because of his own personal connect and experiences with mental health problems. When he thinks about his own experience, he understands true fear, “When you struggle with mental health issues, it can feel as if there is no light at the end of the tunnel. We, as a society, don’t understand how unnerving it is for a person with mental illness to explain what’s going on in their head.”
Siddhant has also witnessed first-hand the immense emotional and financial pressures on the family of the persons with mental illnesses. This impelled him to embark on a journey.
He wanted to learn how to help mental illness patients, and their families and friends, who shoulder so much.
Mental illness is a reality we can no longer ignore—a public health matter that India needs to address urgently. Mind Piper hopes to play a small but important role in bringing that about.
If you have such an idea, and want to make a difference in society, enroll in the School for Social Entrepreneurs India.