Two days ago, on world suicide prevention day, the #EarForYou campaign kicked off with an intriguing online video that depicts a brother trying to reach out to his elder sister, sharing his turmoil through a letter. The video urges for people to listen for the signs from friends and family and try to be available for those seeking help. A powerful initiative by Mpower, the brainchild of philanthropist Neerja Birla and her 23-year-old daughter Ananya, the movement caters to championing mental health causes and creating awareness to prevent suicides.
For three years, the idea has been floating on Neerja’s mind but things fell in place in November 2015 over a casual mother-daughter chat. “One night, Ananya and I were discussing the dearth of mental health facilities in India. As an educationist, I have seen students in my schools facing mental issues. Further compounded by the fact that the parents of the children, most of them very well educated, are often in denial about them. Even those who are willing to seek help, don’t know where to go. This led to exploring the attempt to bridge the gap?” says Neerja Birla, Founder and Chairperson, Mpower.
One thing led to another and talks with consultant paediatrician Dr Mahesh Balsekar and renowned child and adult psychiatrist and psychotherapist Dr Zirak Marker finalised things. The Mpower Centre offers consultation to families and other practitioners by providing an outreach that helps in identifying severe or complex needs that require more specialist interventions, assessment, treatment and training. It comprises primary mental health workers, psychologists and counsellors working in paediatric clinics, schools and youth services.
Why mental health? “People are so conscious and careful about physical health but mental health issues are simply swept under the carpet. There’s too much stigma attached to it. Every dogma that has dogged society for generations is now being questioned. In such a scenario, it is sad to think that the stigma attached to mental health disorders is the reason behind the suffering of so many people. Mpower is about reaching out to those people and telling them that it’s okay to not be okay. But it’s not okay to not seek help,” says Neerja.
The philanthropist believes in giving everything to what she’s committed to. “I’m extremely lucky to have a qualified and dedicated team at Mpower and we’ve worked hard on deciding what the foundation is all about and what its goals are. The mission statement of the foundation is bigger than me. I am aware of my responsibilities and try to be as sensitive to the topic and to people as I can,” says Neerja.
Neerja’s daughter Ananya is a true blue gen next girl who pushed her into taking the first step towards the cause. “Like any youth, she is extremely aware of what is going on in society and has a mind of her own. She has this righteous impatience in her that makes her want to do things, not just think about them,” she says.
Besides being the co-founder of the foundation, Ananya is actively involved in GenM, a music concert that will provide a platform to engage in meaningful dialogue on mental health.