EDITIONS
Healthcare

This Goa-based organisation is working towards the mental well-being of people in rural areas

Hema Vaishnavi
21st Mar 2017
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Sangath has been working towards increasing access to mental healthcare for 20 years now.

Mental illness is a common phenomenon. Mental health is as much an important aspect of a person’s life as the physical health. However, many people with mental illness do not receive proper care or treatment.

Often, people don’t realise that they are suffering from mental illnesses or even if they do, many are reluctant to seek help. There’s usually an immense amount of social stigma attached towards people dealing with mental illnesses, which has deterred many from seeking help. But the bigger reason might be the lack of proper care available, especially in rural areas.

To address this problem, Sangath, a non-profit organisation, is providing access to rural population in the form of physical, psychological, and social therapies.

A vision to provide healthcare facilities

Sangath was started in 1996 by seven professionals in Goa, Dr Nandita de Souza, Nazneen Sarosh Rebelo, Vikram Patel, Aneeta Fernandes, Romeo Almeida, Mimi Menezes, and Fiona Dias Saxena. It began with the idea to increasing the lifespan of the people in rural communities by improving access to healthcare.

The idea was to train and empower local community resources to provide appropriate healthcare services for developmental disabilities and mental health problems. Sangath started with specific areas of focus such as child development, adolescent and youth health, and adult health and chronic disease. What started off as a clinical service provider is now providing accessible and affordable healthcare services to many communities across the country.

The organisation makes mental healthcare accessible to people by not only consulting healthcare providers but also community members. There is huge treatment gap that forms a barrier to Sangath’s vision. The number of people with mental disorders is much greater than those who are aware of these problems and receive proper medical care.

“A major barrier to closing this treatment gap is the lack of affordable care in community settings like their own homes, schools, and primary healthcare centres,” says Shreyas Kamat, the finance secretary.

Over the years, Sangath has been working extensively in providing care and facilities in various aspects of child development, adolescent and youth health, adult mental health, addressing chronic diseases, in particular, those associated with ageing and alcohol use disorders.

Sangath’s work under various initiatives has reached more than 10 states in India with offices in Goa, Bhopal, Nagpur, Bengaluru, New Delhi, Patna, and Tezpur. Sangath was appointed as the State Nodal Agency Centre for the National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with mental retardation, cerebral palsy, autism, and multiple disabilities.

Twenty-two scientific papers were published in leading international and national journals by Sangath authors since 2012. They have also presented posters at various international and national conferences, with Urvita Bhatia, one of the members of the general body of Sangath, being awarded the Best Free Poster Award at the annual zonal conference of the Indian Psychiatric Society in October 2013.

The state government through the Goa Education Development Corporation has launched a programme for schools in which Sangath is training and supervising counsellors to promote adolescent health. Prachi Khandeparkar, the member of the general body of Sangath, has been appointed as a member of the counselling cell.

Campaign for Canacona

Sangath is running a crowdfunding campaign to train and supervise members of the local community to deliver mental healthcare at the people’s doorsteps.

With the funds raised, Sangath will set up a mental health service in a relatively remote area in Goa called Canacona, which is the southernmost administrative unit in Goa, with a population strength of 45,172 people, predominantly living in rural areas.

The people living in Canacona have to travel at least 60 km to access mental health services from a psychiatric hospital and travel about 30 km for a district hospital. This new facility will provide mental healthcare at their doorstep.

“We will engage extensively with the local community; with the aim of creating awareness about mental health and illness. We will train lay counsellors who will deliver basic mental health care in the community. We will not require expensive and scarce specialist healthcare professionals to deliver frontline healthcare services. The service will be less stigmatising as it will be delivered by locals who are accepted in the community,” says Shreyas.

The counsellors will be delivering these services for free of cost at the homes of the people or any other setting close to their homes.

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