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Meet Raghu Appasani of The MINDS Foundation

Today we’d like to introduce you to Raghu Appasani.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Raghu. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Growing up as a first-generation Indian-American, I was continuously faced with attempting to integrate the fusions of two drastically different cultures. With parents stressing the importance of education, and a father in the scientific world, I naturally began working in laboratories while in high school. I spent much of my high school and college years pursuing neurological and psychiatric research. During my sophomore year at Wesleyan University, I ventured to Bihar, India to work with a non-profit, with the intention of gaining more hands-on global health experience prior to my plan of entering medical school. This experience opened my eyes to the drastic gaps in healthcare access, specifically between urban and rural populations. My passion for the neurosciences, global health, and mental health issues and stigma which became apparent in my own family led me to start The MINDS Foundation. My passion is to create a stigma free world in which we can embrace each others’ unique qualities and all can seek the mental healthcare they need to achieve their passions.

My experiences through MINDS has taught me the importance of community, family, residence, and compassion in driving positive wellbeing and increasing productivity.

The lessons learned from MINDS, along with my exposure to a fragmented healthcare system here in the United States and rise in burnout across physicians, has led me to start initiatives to combat mental health in the medical field and corporate sectors.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Mental health is underfunded. Stigma is a huge obstacle. People are not comfortable talking about mental health.

The landscape is changing. More and more people are beginning to recognize the importance of mental health as overall health. There has been significant integration of eastern philosophies and practices like mindfulness and yoga into the mainstream western culture.

Many people ask me, “How do you stay motivated?” My answer is simple, “If it’s not challenging, I’m not interested. I found my passion and those who have gotten involved are the ones who keep me going.”

The MINDS Foundation – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
The MINDS Foundation is a non-profit organization focused on creating a stigma free world around mental health in rural India. We are most proud of continuing to bring light to a highly sensitive issue and for the develop of high-quality, cost-effective mental health care. We have developed a program that provides rural citizens to have access to a trained mental health care worker for under $1.00/year.

Grassroots Approach
Mental illness is a highly stigmatized and deeply personal health issue. The MINDS Foundation is committed to a bottom-up, grassroots approach based on the knowledge that creating lasting change requires strong partnerships with local communities, health workers, and other stakeholders.

Direct Service Delivery
Although, we understand the importance of advocacy, policy, and research in the mental health sector, we believe and focus our efforts on bringing direct mental health services to communities. Hence, our efforts lead us to focus on mental health education programs, medical treatment, and training local stakeholders to become community mental healthcare workers—sustaining our efforts long-term.

Community Education and Engagement
We believe that patients and their family members should not feel shame in seeking help for a mental illness. The first step in overcoming the many social barriers to accessing mental health services is giving community members information about what mental illness really is and what services are available. Learning to accept and understand individuals with a mental illness is a critical step toward improving access to and utilization of mental health services.

Commitment to Rural Populations
India’s rural citizens have little access to information about mental illness and the least access to mental health services compared with those living in urban centers. Those living with a mental illness can face severe social exclusion and present a huge economic burden to their family and the community at large.

Community Education
We believe that education surrounding mental health is a critical component that needs to be addressed in order to diminish the stigma surrounding it. In order to address this component, we organize evidence-based mental health education workshops in rural villages. Our team works closely with CMHWs and local village leaders to establish a relationship allowing us to host impactful educational programming. Workshops include discussion, Q&A, visual aids, street plays, interaction with mental health professionals, and a video documentary explaining and depicting mental health symptoms and disorders. The community is provided with a list of resources as well as being left with visual aids and educational materials.

Access to Care
We are committed to providing only the most high-quality care. MINDS does not have a healthcare facility nor does it directly provide medical care. Instead, we network with local clinics servicing village communities in which we work. Community members and CMHW, trained by MINDS, refer those they feel need assistance. Thereafter, our team provides an initial counselling session and works with patients to assist them in getting the proper care they need. This entails linking them with government schemes as well as with local health clinics.

Capacity Building and Community Mental Health Workers
We hire and train community members to be mental health workers. The community mental health workers (CMHWs) are at the frontline of our programs. They use their familiarity with the community and leverage their social networks so that we may efficiently reach more people. Furthermore, they support patients through their recovery and continue to educate the community about mental health by hosting workshops and peer support groups. This program not only allows us to increase access to care but mobilizes the community to take charge and improve the health of their own members. Investing in local stakeholders allows us to have a long-term impact.

Community Reintegration
The end goal for patients is to live happy lives where they can contribute productively to their community. To help them reach these goals, we provide social and vocational rehabilitation programs that will equip them with the skills to succeed in their work, household or school responsibilities. It is a two-way street where the focus is also on preparing the community to be supportive of those who have or have had a mental disorder.

Transportation & Treatment Program
This completely free-of-charge program invites those with mental illness and their families to receive transportation to and from the Psychiatry Team who will formally diagnose, counsel and provide appropriate treatment.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
One of my proudest moments in my career so far has been being recognized as a One Young World Ambassador and Delegate Speaker. I was able to speak on a panel focused on mental health at what was a life-changing summit in Ottawa, Canada in 2016.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
The MINDS Foundation

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