A community-based NGO has proposed a number of indigenously developed psychological therapies for depression and autism.
While autism remains a largely undocumented condition in India, depression has become a common phenomenon, particularly amongst the young. It is estimated that 70 million Indians suffer from mental health issues; many of these will have some degree of depression. There is still a large degree of social stigma attached to mental illness. As a result, some may choose to not discuss any feelings of depression, often leading to the condition worsening.
Sangath is a health research focused NGO specialising in child and adolescent development as well as mental health. The NGO is based in Goa, but has extended projects into other states including New Delhi and Madhya Pradesh. The organisation was established in 1997 and has since received two major international grants for the purpose of two proposed specialised projects. One is‘Enabling translation of Science to Service to Enhance Depression Care’ (ESSENCE), focusing on depression. The other is ‘Communication-centred parent-mediated treatment for autistic spectrum disorder in South Asia’ (COMPASS), focusing on autism.
ESSENCE, funded by the US National Institute of Mental Health, is to focus on expanding treatment options for those with severe depression. This will involve accredited social health activists as well as the use of digital interventions which should allow greater access in areas with limited healthcare facilities.
Digital intervention may be a key strategy for future treatment of depression. India’s youth are seeing high levels of mental illness and depression. Recent reports indicate a number of Indian teenagers suffering with depression have been goaded into depression through the now infamous “blue whale challenge” (a web “game” which encouraged vulnerable teenagers to commit suicide). Online outreach and support schemes could reach a wide audience as India’s youth increasingly spend more time online via computers and mobile phones.
COMPASS scheme revolves around frontline care workers directly aiding the parents of autistic children.Sangath is collaborating with the University of Manchester, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Maulana Azad Medical School and the Delhi government.
In India, the number of children diagnosed with autism is rising, though support networks and care are lacking. With such a broad range of organisations backing the scheme it is hoped that Sangath will provide a significant increase to the amount of help available to the parents of those suffering from autism, and by doing so, increase the quality of the autistic child’s life.