Her family wanted her to be a banker, but she found her calling in mental health with Poddar Foundation
Prakriti Poddar runs the Poddar Foundation, which creates preventive mental health programmes. It also runs Silence Todo, a campaign to remove the stigma surrounding mental health, in rural areas of Maharashtra.Rekha Balakrishnan
Prakriti Poddar was born in a family of bankers and it was expected that she would follow the same career path. But faith and determination willed otherwise. Today, she runs the Poddar Foundation, which focuses on creating preventive mental health programmes across India.
Interestingly, the influence of her maternal grandmother, who was a faith healer, drew Prakriti towards the idea of making healing her life mission.
She spent several years in Canada where she worked with TUCOWS, an internet company and also volunteered with the Salvation Army, spending time “with troubled women, providing guided meditation and healing”. She had also spent some time as a banker in India.
Prakriti decided to pursue what she loved doing: talk to people and heal their minds.
“In 2000, I started Mind Over Image Consulting, which focuses on corporate counselling, life coaching, and soft skill development for professionals while also helping address their mental health issues,” she tells HerStory.
In 2002, she returned to India and continued her focus on the field. Simultaneously, she also got trained as a Tasso regression therapist, an NLP practitioner, a certified counselor, a certified neurofeedback therapist, a trained PLR therapist, and as a doctor of alternative medicine.
Back to grassroots
In 2016, after working for several years with corporate professionals and upper middle-class people, Prakriti decided to take mental health awareness to the grassroots and the shift the focus to the under-privileged whose “mental health was long neglected”.
She took over the reins of the Poddar Foundation as the managing trustee in 2014. The foundation was part of the family's Poddar Group.
“In rural areas, awareness about mental health issues is very low. It leads to thriving of superstitions and fraud healers such as tantriks, etc. Additionally, paucity of mental health experts such as psychiatrists, psychologists, and counsellors is a major problem. Even in urban areas, awareness remains low and social stigma is still attached to mental illness.”
The Poddar Foundation works at multiple levels – it creates preventive mental health programmes, and also runs Silence Todo, a campaign to remove the stigma surrounding mental health.
The foundation is currently working with over 60,000 people in Maharashtra, and has created a teaching and training manual for social health workers, teachers, students, anganwadis, and medical officers.
“We also conducted a pilot training programme, Prakalp Prerna, mandated by the Maharashtra health ministry to train medical officers to take mental health awareness and initiatives to rural areas,” Prakriti adds.
Mental health in women and young girls
Prakriti believes poor mental health in women and young girls is a cause for concern.
“Several studies have found that incidences of anxiety and depression are higher among women as compared to men. In some women, hormonal imbalances drive mental health issues such as anxiety and depression; some women experience post-partum or post-menopausal depression. On the other hand, certain socio-economic factors also predispose women to poor mental health. These might include an abusive relationship or marriage, lack of financial independence that forces them to stay in such relationships, lack of decision-making power, etc. Other causes of poor mental health are the same in men and women. These may include high levels of work stress and lack of cohesive social support, among others,” she elaborates.
Managing mental health
So, what are the things we can do every day to be mentally fit? Prakriti recommends the practice of mindfulness.
Prakriti implies that with mindfulness, you are constantly living in the present.
“Often, our mental health suffers because we are either ruminating over our past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness allows you to stay true to what you are doing in the present; it is a wonderful mental health habit. Another important habit is to keep talking and confiding about your problems to a trusted friend rather than keeping your emotions bottled up inside you. It is important to maintain healthy face-to-face interpersonal relationships with people rather than having too many virtual friends or admirers.”
She believes that stress-busting relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing, walking, and staying physically active are important elements for sound mental health.
Prakriti warns that technology, despite its many advantages, adds to the pressure on the mind.
“Technology keeps us connected all the time. It forces us to bring work to our homes, it compels us to stay on the job 24x7. Unfortunately, all these mean that we have little leisure time to relax our minds. Addiction to social media also has negative effects,” she adds.