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Anisha Padukone’s Insights on Mental Health and Philanthropy with The CSR Journal

Anisha Padukone
In an exclusive interaction with The CSR Journal, Anisha Padukone, the CEO of the Live Love Laugh Foundation, sheds light on the critical importance of mental health advocacy in today’s society. With a personal and professional dedication to destigmatizing mental illness, Padukone discusses how Live Love Laugh has become a leading force in promoting understanding and support for those struggling with mental health challenges. Her insights underscore the pressing need for collaborative efforts between philanthropy and corporate social responsibility to effect meaningful change in mental health discourse and access to resources. Following are the excerpts from the interaction.

1. Mental health is a cause close to your heart. Could you share with us ways in which philanthropy can support the cause of mental health?

Yes, mental health is indeed a topic that has gained significant attention lately, but my personal journey as a caregiver has truly emphasized the depth of understanding needed in this area. Through my experiences, I’ve come to realize the importance of being better prepared and the crucial need for support. It’s a cause very close to my heart, especially in terms of philanthropy. I firmly believe in the power of collaborative action across various sectors, not just limited to mental health but also including education, healthcare, and women’s empowerment. Working together can yield the best results. Philanthropy, in my view, extends beyond financial contributions. It involves partnering with individuals and organizations, sharing expertise, and problem-solving collectively. While financial support is vital, it’s just one aspect of philanthropy. It’s about working together towards a common goal.

2. Beyond awareness campaigns, the Live Love Laugh Foundation emphasizes actionable philanthropy. Can you elaborate on the specific areas within mental health that you believe need increased investment?

From a foundation perspective, we center our efforts on what we call the three A’s: awareness, accessibility, and affordability. While there has been an increase in awareness about mental health in India over the past seven to eight years, there’s still a significant distance to cover. Access to mental health professionals and credible information remains a challenge. With the abundance of information available today, distinguishing between what is verified and what isn’t is crucial. Affordability is another key concern, affecting both rural and urban areas. Beyond these, the importance of philanthropy, both financial and otherwise, cannot be overstated. Additionally, there is a pressing need for more research specific to India’s context. While some research exists, there is a considerable gap that needs to be addressed in the field of mental health. These are the areas where support and assistance are greatly needed.

3. The shortage of mental health professionals is a significant challenge in many countries. From your perspective, what are the key obstacles, and how do you see the gap being addressed in terms of human resources for mental health?

The shortage of mental health professionals is indeed a significant challenge, particularly in densely populated countries like India. When addressing this issue, it’s crucial to identify key obstacles and develop strategies to bridge the gap in human resources for mental health. One approach that I believe holds promise, especially in a collectivist society like India, is a community-based approach. By training a large number of individuals within communities, alongside specialists, we can begin to address the shortage more effectively. Currently, India has only about eight or nine thousand psychiatrists, along with a limited number of other mental health professionals. With the increasing number of individuals seeking help for mental illness, it’s clear that traditional approaches alone are insufficient. Training lay counselors and community-based workers is essential to expand outreach and support. In our rural programs, we prioritize training for implementation partners and frontline workers such as ASHA and Anganwadi workers to enhance community-based mental health support. This grassroots approach is vital for reaching a larger portion of the population and reducing the gap in mental health resources.

4. The Live Love Laugh Foundation has been actively involved in various initiatives. Could you share some success stories or impactful interventions that highlight the foundation’s commitment to making a tangible difference in the field of mental health?

Our organization, founded on the core belief that no life should be lost due to mental illness, has witnessed remarkable successes since its inception in 2015. One poignant example is the story of a young girl who, in a moment of despair, reached out to one of our helpline partners after visiting our website. Through timely intervention, including contacting her family and dispatching an ambulance, we were able to save her life. This story epitomizes the impact our organization, Live, Laugh, Love, can have in preventing tragedies and reaffirms our commitment to our core belief.
Another inspiring success story stems from our rural program intervention in Avangiri, Karnataka. A man who suffered a severe mental illness following a serious accident found hope and rehabilitation through our program. With the right treatment and support, his condition stabilized, and he now leads a fulfilling life, engaging in vocational training and contributing to his community. His journey, along with his mother’s transformation into a parent champion, illustrates the ripple effect of our interventions, inspiring others in their community.
These are just a few examples of the countless lives touched by our work. We have received heartfelt gratitude from individuals whose lives we’ve impacted, and our efforts have been recognized through prestigious awards over the years. Each success story, whether shared anonymously or celebrated publicly, underscores the importance of our mission and drives us to continue our advocacy and support for mental health.

5. In the context of mental health, what, in your opinion, are the most critical policy changes or legislative measures that would contribute significantly to the improvement of mental health services and awareness in our society?

The passing of the Mental Health Care Act in 2017 marked a significant milestone for the mental health industry in India. This robust legislation not only addresses various approaches to mental healthcare but also emphasizes the rights of individuals with mental illness. Decriminalizing suicide and mandating mental health care insurance were pivotal steps forward outlined in the act. However, the key lies in its implementation on the ground. This presents an opportunity for organizations like ours to collaborate with stakeholders and ensure the effective execution of the act’s recommendations.
Moving forward, there are several measures needed to further improve mental health services in India. First and foremost, there is a need to ensure that insurance companies comply with the act, providing coverage for mental health treatment on par with physical illness. Standardizing the recognition and qualifications of non-medical mental health professionals such as counselors and psychologists is another crucial area that requires attention. The government’s initiative, Tele-Manas, introduced two years ago, is a commendable step towards providing essential intervention and counseling support.
Capacity building remains a pressing challenge, highlighting the need for investment in training and developing mental health professionals. Additionally, while progress has been made in research, there is still a long way to go. Continued efforts to raise awareness, combat stigma, and promote destigmatization are essential in advancing mental health initiatives in the country. These broader themes must remain at the forefront of our collective efforts as we strive for better mental health outcomes for all individuals in India.

6. There’s a growing global conversation about destigmatizing mental health issues. How does Live Love Laugh Foundation contribute to this conversation, and what do you think are the most effective ways to challenge and overcome mental health stigma in our communities?

When we launched our organization in 2015, our primary focus was on raising awareness and destigmatizing mental illness. While these remain crucial aspects of our work, we have also expanded our efforts to include improving access to mental health services and making them more affordable. For the past five to seven years, we have been consistently dedicated to activities aimed at building awareness and reducing stigma surrounding mental health.
Understanding the multifaceted nature of stigma is essential. Stigma exists at various levels, including individual, familial, community, and organizational levels. To effectively address stigma, it’s crucial to identify the target audience and tailor interventions accordingly. For instance, in urban areas where our target demographic is typically younger individuals, digital mediums such as websites and social media platforms have proven to be effective channels for outreach. However, strategies must be adapted when working in rural areas, where community-led and on-the-ground approaches are more effective.
Consistency is key in stigma reduction efforts. We have learned through experience that sustained, ongoing efforts yield the best results. Over the past seven to eight years, we have remained steadfast in our commitment to combating stigma, which has proven to be a successful approach.

7. Mental health challenges often intersect with social and economic factors. How does the Live Love Laugh Foundation approach these intersections in its programs?

Our rural program is built on the foundation of providing affordable mental health care. This initiative stemmed from our belief that mental illness can affect individuals from any background and should not be constrained by socioeconomic barriers. It was essential for us to extend our services beyond urban areas to rural communities, ensuring equitable access to mental health support across the country.
In our rural program, all interventions are offered free of cost to beneficiaries. This includes medication, treatment, mental health camps, vocational training, advocacy, and community-building activities. We are committed to ensuring that financial constraints do not hinder individuals from accessing the care they need. Similarly, our helpline numbers, which are available 24/7 and offer counseling in multiple languages, provide a vital lifeline for those in need of immediate support, all at no cost to the caller.
Additionally, we are actively engaged in advocacy efforts aimed at addressing policy-level barriers to affordability in mental health care. While I cannot delve into specific details at this time, these endeavors are aimed at creating systemic changes that will contribute to the affordability of mental health services in the long term.
Through these various initiatives, we are working tirelessly to make mental health care accessible and affordable for all individuals, regardless of their socioeconomic status or geographic location.

8. With Deepika Padukone being a well-known figure and your sister, and Prakash Padukone, your father, having significant influence in their respective fields, how do you leverage their platforms and experiences to amplify the message and impact of Live Love Laugh Foundation’s initiatives, especially in the context of mental health awareness and destigmatization?

Yes, indeed. Deepika, as the founder of Live Love Laugh, has played a pivotal role in breaking the silence surrounding mental health through her courageous advocacy efforts. One significant moment that stands out is her interview with Barkha Dutt on NDTV in 2014. It was a landmark event, marking the first time a public figure of her stature openly discussed mental health on national television. At the time, mental illness was a taboo subject, and Deepika’s decision to speak out was bold and groundbreaking. However, in hindsight, it proved to be a catalyst for change, opening the door for others to share their struggles and seek help.
This interview was instrumental in raising awareness and destigmatizing mental health issues, inspiring countless individuals to confront their own challenges. It demonstrated the power of leveraging a celebrity’s platform to drive positive change and encourage dialogue around mental health.
While Deepika’s influence has been invaluable in amplifying the message, it’s essential to recognize that mental illness affects people from all walks of life. As such, our foundation has worked diligently to strike a balance between leveraging her visibility and amplifying diverse voices. Over time, our initiatives have evolved to include narratives from individuals across various backgrounds, fostering a sense of community and empowerment.
Through this balanced approach, we aim to create a domino effect, where each courageous story shared inspires others to speak out and seek support. By continuing to highlight diverse perspectives and experiences, we can collectively break down barriers and create a more inclusive environment for mental health discourse.