The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on people’s mental health. Some groups, including health and other frontline workers, students, people living alone, and those with pre-existing mental health conditions, have been particularly affected. And services for mental, neurological and substance use disorders have been significantly disrupted.
Rachana Iyer, Head, Corporate Social Responsibility, IDFC FIRST Bank, has said, “The gap in access to mental healthcare is more pronounced now than ever as people from all walks of life experience trauma caused by illness, isolation, loss of a loved one, job loss and such other incidents triggered by the pandemic. Trauma care systems in India are at a nascent stage and constrained by lack and financial and infrastructure support.”
With an aim to address this, governments from around the world have recognized the need to scale up quality mental health services at all levels during the World Health Assembly in May 2021.
Dr. Sapna Bangar, Psychiatrist and Head, Mpower – The Centre, Mumbai has said, “According to a WHO estimate, mental illness makes up about 15% of the total disease conditions around the world and that India has one of the most sizable populations affected by mental disorders. Consequently, WHO has branded India as the world’s ‘most depressing country’. It is conspicuous that our country is already going through a silent mental health crisis. For every million population, there are only 3 psychiatrists and even fewer psychologists.”
As we work towards improving the availability and accessibility of mental health, let us look at some of the corporates in India that have been investing in CSR for mental health. Infosys, TCS, IDFC FIRST Bank, Dabur, Aditya Birla are among the top companies funding and designing programmes for mental health awareness and treatment. Their programmes take into account the importance of emotional wellbeing for both, employees as well as external stakeholders.
CSR for mental health
These companies are taking the message of self-care to the masses. More importantly, they are reaching out to the hordes of underserved people in rural and semi-urban areas who may suffer from mental illness.
This year’s theme for Mental Health Day is Mental Healthcare for All: Let’s make it a reality.
Mental health programmes for employees
Says Dr. Sanjeev Kanoria, Founder, Suasth Hospital, “With the rise of telehealth services, companies can have tie-ups with healthcare organizations that offer corporate wellness programs and online services to a psychologist or clinical psychiatrist. Promotion of safe workplace practices amongst employees, unique, and customized wellness programmes can help employees deal with the current situation in a better way. With speedy improvements in artificial intelligence, each passing day brings more convenient apps for both diagnosis of early warning signs and primary assessment. The final diagnosis requires an assessment by a qualified and trained mental health professional. Companies can create a checklist to help the employees to recognize such mental health issues.”
Top companies investing in CSR for mental health
A shortage of doctors and the rising cost of medication have left many mentally ill patients deprived of the required treatment. The Chittaprakasha Charitable Trust provides residential rehabilitation centers for the mentally affected who are homeless. Infosys Foundation (the CSR arm of Infosys) has helped in the construction of a 7,500 sq. ft. building at Chittadhama in Karnataka.
Chittadhama came into existence in about 2009 and that was the time when the land was bought and the Trust was looking for donors and resources to kickstart the facility and that is when the Infosys Foundation came into the picture. They graciously said that they would bear the entire expenses of the building. CSR of Infosys also granted funds to the trust to ensure a steady supply of required psychiatric medication under ‘Manomaligi scheme’.
Tata Consultancy Services (TCS)
TCS Cares works with the TCS CSR team to extend mental health support to extended stakeholders, such as students from the IT Employability Programme, through podcasts, blogs and webinars.
Keeping in mind the diverse segments in the organisation, such as the LGBTQ community, those with disabilities, the webinar sessions are organised to explore the interdependence between resilience and workplace effectiveness.
IDFC FIRST Bank
Under its aegis of Education and Health pillars of their CSR mission, IDFC FIRST Bank recognised early on that poverty and marginalisation have been one of the most robust links to mental illnesses, often associated with homelessness. Within the Indian context, 22% of the population live below the poverty line, 1.8 million are homeless, and 73 million families lack adequate housing and safety.
Catering to mental health needs of such populations, therefore, require an approach that is beyond the traditional biomedical one which often focuses only on medication. “Psychological and social care is essential to curbing poverty traps and initiating a movement of this populace from the periphery of society to the centre. Persistent social inequities and lack of access to equitable opportunities often deplete an individual’s resources to cope,” says Rachana Iyer, Head, CSR, IDFC FIRST Bank.
The Bank collaborated with The Banyan’s sister concern, The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health (BALM), to provide financial support in the form of stipends and allowances to students studying masters and diploma level programmes. “At its inception, the goal of our collaboration with BALM was to train a cadre of mental health professionals, cognizant of field challenges and keen to create and influence change.” says Iyer.
From its inception till date, 110 students across different regions of India were supported by CSR of IDFC FIRST Bank to complete their Masters in Applied Psychology and Diploma programmes such as working with vulnerable children. These students hail from families that are largely labourers, farmers, construction workers, tea-estate workers, carpenters in vulnerable and low-income or conflict zones across India. After their studies at BALM, most students move on to working on mental health interventions in their own communities or in other low-resource settings. This multiplier effect is another reason IDFC FIRST Bank supports this programme.
The Bank is supporting another project in CSR for mental health. Over the years, the CSR team realized that enabling economic support in the form of sustainable livelihoods to those living with mental health conditions in ultra-poor communities is necessary. To this effect, a disability allowance (DA) ranging from Rs. 150-300 per person is in place for those in need. Beneficiaries of DA are individuals experiencing severe mental illnesses and living in situations that are deemed as ‘at risk of homelessness’. This includes people who have single or elderly carers, no other source of income, difficulty meeting daily needs such as food and transportation.
Under this programme, 158 women and men from low socio-economic backgrounds living with severe mental health conditions in Kovalam, Manampathy and Sembakam three villages localities of Tamil Nadu received an average of Rs. 300 per day.
In the wake of COVID-19 and the elevated need for addressing mental health among the general population, the IDFC FIRST Bank has announced the launch of India’s first Centre for Trauma Studies and Innovation (CTSI), in association with Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health (BALM). The initiative, launched ahead of World Mental Health Day 2021, aims to address the need to look at mental health from a trauma lens, besides also creating awareness about mental wellbeing. Through this initiative, the Centre for Trauma will create curriculums and facilitate trauma-related courses for healthcare professionals at both urban and grassroots levels.
Despite trauma being a significant public health concern, leading to ill-health and mortality, there is a dearth of designated units to deal with issues related to it. The existing systems for trauma care are not only basic but are also largely restricted to urban and select semi-urban areas, without integration with regional or state-wide systems. Rural and remote locations in the hinterland lack facilities for prompt lifesaving treatment and safe transfer of those affected to better-equipped facilities. The Centre for Trauma Studies and Innovation is established to bridge this critical gap, promote credible courses that study key areas of trauma care and to deliver effective, accessible and affordable healthcare services for all. The Centre for Trauma Studies and Innovation will be open to healthcare professionals from various fields. The focus is on building capacity at a grassroots level.
Mpower is the brainchild of Neerja Birla (who is founder and Chairperson). An initiative by Aditya Birla Education Trust, it was founded with a vision to #StampOutStigma around the idea of seeking help for various mental health concerns. Every year on World Mental Health Day, Mpower conducts social media campaigns and activities to raise awareness and encourage dialogue around mental health, in collaboration with influencers and art and culture platforms.
This year, with the goal of making mental health care accessible to all, Mpower organised #EarForYou Sessions – free 20-Minute Online Counselling Sessions. People from any part of the country who need mental health support and counselling via Zoom Calls could connect with professional psychiatrists and psychologists.
The Tata Trusts initiated its work in mental health care when there was very little recognition of the burden of mental disorders and a poor understanding of wellbeing and its impact on overall health. The Trusts’ involvement goes beyond providing financial help. Over the past four decades, its work in this area has been driven through grantmaking, direct implementation and co-partnership strategies with government and non-government organisations.
Despite the efforts of these responsible corporate citizens, CSR for mental health is still at a nascent stage in India. This area needs greater investment, awareness and openness.
ITC Fiama in its endeavour to encourage proactive conversations and awareness on mental well-being has collaborated with The Minds Foundation to launch its first Virtual Clinic.
Mental health is a deeply personal health issue and is aggravated further with the anxiety of a dynamic lifestyle. While the conversations have begun, mental health continues to be stigmatized. ITC Fiama’s Mental Health Survey 2020, revealed 70% of Indians under the age of 25 have had issues with mental well-being but only 26% have consulted a therapist or a counsellor. More than 70% rely on internet help through search before consulting a therapist.
The Virtual Clinic supported by Fiama is an additional option to enable affordable access to mental health therapy delivered by licensed professionals. It is a suitable platform that encourages individuals to seek help in an intimate virtual space without the fear of embarrassment or the prevailing stigma. The MINDS Foundation has specially put together a team of highly qualified therapists for the Virtual Clinic, thereby, offering expert advice, therapy and counselling at the convenience of one’s own privacy.