The MINDS Foundation Summer Fellowship Program

Sasha Tolmachyov, media lab intern, Emerson College 2015

Raghu Appasani founded The MINDS Foundation in August 2010, and committed to bettering the lives of Indian men and women who suffer from mental illness in silence. “The core purpose of it is to create systemic change with regards to mental healthcare in rural India,” he explains. “We partner with existing hospitals and medical institutions in India, bridge the gap, and build capacity to actually provide mental health services to rural villages in their district.”

Right now, The MINDS Foundation is looking for others that want to help further their mission and have the opportunity for a once in a lifetime travel experience. MINDS hosts a summer fellowship program, where anyone from undergraduate students to professional physicians can spend one to two months doing work in the field. Located in Baroda, Gujarat, a northwestern State of India, MINDS partners with Dhiraj General Hospital that has a secure campus where students live and interact with each other. Fellows work daily with psychiatrists, neurologists, nurses, and social workers to help educate families about mental health and treat patients.

Prior to sending their fellows overseas, the team from MINDS works to plan projects related to each applicant’s background experience.Whether you’re a student of medicine or humanities, there’s always something you can do. Appasani described some of the work this program has accomplished. “There was someone from Wesleyan who was a film major, and we put together a storyboard for a short documentary and set up the interviews, and once he got to India he was able to do that. And then on the other side we had a medical student who wanted to do more of an epidemiological study and look at structural violence in rural villages, so we were able to do that as well.”

“It’s our third summer that we’re running this program, and we’ve had over 38 fellows so far work with us in India,” he said. “We’re also partnering up with a group called Minds For Health in the UK to get clinical psychology students into our fellowship.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 50,000 psychiatrists in America. That number might sound low to us, but it’s a pie-in-the-sky figure for India, which has ten times less psychiatrists than we do. This is a serious issue, considering a good percentage of its population is plagued by deteriorating psychological health. So what prevents India’s citizens from receiving treatment? One reason is the insufficient government funding set aside for mental health care. But perhaps an even bigger reason behind it is the social stigma.

Most of Indian society turns a blind eye to mental illness. People tend to categorize things like anxiety, depression, and schizoaffective disorders as either cries for attention or delusional behavior. Too often, those with relatively common and treatable symptoms are afraid to seek help, for fear of being scrutinized by the people in their lives. It is the result of the stereotypical view of an “insane” individual. And it is prevalent in both the developed and developing world.

MINDS provides mental health services in three different phases. “The first is community education,” Appasani explained, “where they provide education on mental health resources, symptoms, and illnesses, so people can know where to go for help, and in turn decrease the stigma around the issue. Secondly, we set up a transportation system for patients and families to come to our partner hospitals and get pro bono counseling and free medication. And finally, we are launching a community mental health worker program, in which we are selecting a member from each community and training them in psychosocial education, mental health awareness, and basic screening techniques.”

Appasani’s vision is an India free of psychological distress. He hopes that once people are educated in the severity of mental illness, they will do everything in their power to help struggling friends and family members. And once those in power realize that mentally stable citizens equal a more productive society, they will recognize the bias indicated in their health care system. The fellowship program is an important component of The MINDS Foundation’s programs that helps further the nonprofit’s mission.

If you’d like to apply for this year’s summer fellowship program, follow the link below. The deadline is March 1, 2014. And check out the rest of The MINDS Foundation website for more information about the organization.