Atmiyata: A Novel Community Effort
A few days back I had talked about how community based mental health interventions could play a role in reducing the treatment gap that exists currently. One of the projects I had talked about there was the Atmiyata project. Today, I want to focus on this project and share how smart-phones and local community members can help improve the situation of mental health in rural India.
Atmiyata means shared compassion in Marathi language. The project was first implemented in various villages of Maharashtra as a pilot project for a period of 24 months. There is a nearly 85% treatment gap in India for mental disorders. This means that nearly 85% of the people who have been identified as suffering from a mental disorder don’t seek or receive the medical assistance they need.
To reduce the said gap, an NGO in Canada funded the Atmiyata project. They started reaching out to self help groups (SHGs) and Farmer’s clubs (FCs) in rural areas to sensitize them to the common mental disorders. These small community groups often play a very important role in other social movements too.
Under the supervision of Dr. Kaustabh Joag, various Atmiyata champions and mitras (friends) were chosen in the villages in purview of the study. These champions were trained in identifying the symptoms of common and severe mental disorders. The training also included providing basic treatment and support and working as a mediator between the people who needed further help and mental health professionals.
The mitras were trained to some lesser extent. This included identifying stress in individuals and disseminating information on wellbeing and available treatment options. They also made people more aware about available government schemes to support poor families financially. Atmiyata, hence, also tackled poverty in rural areas.
Use of Videos & Smart-phones
The main thing that separates Atmiyata from other community intervention is the use of informative videos in tackling mental health ignorance. The organizers used various interviews to identify the most recognizable social workers and actors in rural areas.
These social workers and actors then made many videos which talked about the different aspects of mental health. They also talked about how seeking support or treatment for them is not a shameful thing. These videos also had pauses in between so that the champions and mitras could discuss the topics portrayed and explain them to the people.
You can watch those videos on YouTube for free. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fd9XMgxLnAw)
A feature that set Atmiyata apart and made it so effective is that it used local community members to help people in emotional distress. It didn’t impose the concept of mental illnesses on the villagers. It, instead, invited members from within the community to participate and make the society healthier and more empowered.
The uncomfortable truth is that these community intervention programs are hard to scale up and suffer from lack of funding after a while. Moreover the need of co-operation from the local psychiatrists and community members may not always be a given and may suffer stiff resistance in some areas.
The pilot study in Maharashtra from 2013-2015 was a huge success none the less. The Atmiyata project is now going to be implemented in Mehsana, Gujarat as well. This will take quality mental health services right to the grassroots level.
You can read more about the project here https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5210275/