About Us Contact Us Help




Lokvani Talks To Raghu Appasani Of MINDS Foundation

Nirmala Garimella

The organization, started in 2010, was set in motion during Raghu Appasani junior year at Wesleyan University where he was pursuing a double major in Neuroscience and Behaviour and Science in Society. He founded MINDS following a volunteer experience in Patna, Bihar at the AB Eye Clinic. Says Raghu, "During this experience, I was exposed to the reality of health disparities across a variety of socioeconomic statuses first-hand. Simultaneously, members of my family were going through the mental healthcare system in India. Being on the frontlines of social stigma and lack of mental health resources, it quickly became apparent that things needed to change".

Starting a non-profit organization was very much a different route than the path I was on as a first-generation Indian-American pre-medical student. Up to this point I had spent most of my time in the research laboratory. My first research experience was in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Greenberg of Harvard Medical School, where I learned molecular biology and biochemical techniques. I then went on to pursue neuroscience research in the laboratory of Dr. Eric Kandel of Columbia University. Finally, I spent the last two years of high school years working on RNA interference to suppress specific tumor growth in pediatric patients, earning the Intel Science Talent Search Semifinalist distinction and the International Sanofi-Aventis BioGENEius Finalist title for his research. 

During my summers in college, I worked at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City under the guidance of Dr. Eric Nestler at the Friedman Brain Institute. My primary research interest during this time was trying to understand the molecular commonalities across various drug addictions and approaches to developing new anti-depressants. However, after my experiences in India, I realized that my calling was to work at the grassroots level, making it my mission to bring healthcare to the doorsteps of the millions of rural citizens in India. Mental health not only affects the individual, but it also has detrimental effects on the economy, caregivers, communities, and physical health.

Give us some figures on the enormity of the problem of mental health in India?

There are only 5000 mental health professionals in India

in 5 people in India live with a mental illness

According to WHO countries like India devote less than 1% of their health budget to mental health compared to 10%, 12%, 18% in other countries.


What are the barriers that you see in issues affecting mental health?

In India, there are three primary barriers to mental health care: (1) accessibility, (2) economic stress, and (3) social stigma. Individuals suffering from mental illness, particularly those living in rural regions outside of major cities, often have limited access to medical professionals, facilities, and resources due to transportation and accessibility problems. In India, there is only 1 psychiatrist for every 300,000 citizens. When such individuals actually reach professional care, they are often unable to afford the long-term counseling and medication treatment necessary to care for mental illness. And in addition, these individuals often face social stigma in their own community–typically due to a lack of comprehension of mental illness–that may discourage them from seeking treatment even when it is available and economically feasible. Currently, top-down, homogeneous health interventions often fail in implementation and sustainability in such contexts – failing to connect with such complex ‘collisions’ of adversity.

How does the Minds Foundation approach this issue?

 The MINDS Foundation is committed to a grassroots holistic approach to eliminate stigma and provide high-quality, cost-effective mental healthcare in every corner of the rural world. MINDS partners with existing health institutions to strengthen mental health services in their respective surrounding rural regions. To do this we combat the three primary barriers mentioned above through a unique program that is implemented through three phases: (1) community education, (2) transportation and medical care, and (3) reintegration into the community (see Figure 1). We use novel psychosocial rehabilitation programs in order to help patients reintegrate into their communities such as: social skills training, vocational training, and community mental health workers (CMHWs). Following the implementation of our services into existing local health institutions we enter into a soft exit, allowing us to turnover the responsibility of a community mental health worker referral network onto the health institution, government, and local community.

Which are the states in India where the work is being implemented?

Currently, we have implemented our program in the Vadodara district of Gujarat, India through a partnership with Dhiraj General Hospital/Sumandeep Vidyapeeth University. As of December 2013, we have provided mental health education to a population of 29, 350 rural citizens and mental health treatment to 175 patients. By January 2014, we will have a pilot program of 5 Community Mental Health Workers in place and will begin expansion into an additional 21 villages by May 2014. Furthermore, MINDS has established itself as a leader in the global mental health sector by establishing international partnerships with academic institutions such as the Icahn School of Medicine and Wesleyan University. Through these partnerships, not only are we able to provide a global mental health experience for volunteers to work on the ground, but we are able to take an issue to impact approach to harnessing the research capacities of these institutes to add evidence-backed research to the lacking literature. To date, we have had over 37 fellows work on-the-ground with us resulting in data that has been published in academic journals, presented at conferences, and has aided in the development of high-impact programming.

How do you fund the foundation?

 At MINDS, we have a funding model that allows for fiscally sustainability and growth . Our existing and ever-expanding fellowship program enables us to empower a continuous stream of advocates for our cause. Prior to their time with us, fellows are required to fundraise a minimum amount for our program. In addition, many of these volunteers continue to advocate, recruit additional support, and continue to work with us once they return from their trips from the field. Currently, our Board of Directors and operations specific grants cover all administrative expenses. All public individual donations have to-date been allocated strictly to direct on-the-ground programming. In the past year, we have seen a spike in support from grant-giving agencies such as Newman’s Own Foundation, the International Monetary Fund, The MENTOR Network, and the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Furthermore, India is on the verge of implementing a new companies bill in which high-profit corporations must give back 2% of their profits through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. MINDS is currently a pioneer in the rural mental health sector, a region in which many of these corporations have employees. In order to take advantage of this opportunity, we are beginning to offer and implement our unique model into rural communities in which corporations have employees, in turn, producing healthier and more productive employees. Through these CSR partnerships, we aim to cover a chunk of our overall operating costs and allow for greater expansion into other regions

Who are your partners and how do they help?

At the core of the MINDS model, is a dedication to partnerships. As it is, mental health is an under-served, under-funded area of public health; hence, through partnerships and collaborations, we believe that a strong impact can be made. MINDS implements it’s model of mental healthcare delivery by partnering with existing local medical institutions. In Vadodara, Gujarat, we partner with Sumandeep Vidyapeeth University and Dhiraj General Hospital. This partner provides us with pro-bono psychiatrists, medical care for patients, and cross-cultural knowledge exchange. Additionally, MINDS works in collaboration with BasicNeeds, Sangath, and other mental health advocacy groups to share ideas and methods of effectively delivering mental health services. Finally, we have partnerships with a number of academic institutions including: Icahn School of Medicine and Wesleyan University, in order to recruit volunteers for our programs and implement research studies.

How can readers get involved?

One of the best ways to get involved is follow our mission and spread awareness about our cause. Additionally, we as we move into 2014, we plan to expand our program to an additional 30,000 rural citizens; hence, any personal donations would be greatly appreciated and directed towards this growth. Some of supporters have hosted dinners, happy hours, and brunches. These have definitely assisted us in spreading the word about our mission and raising funds for our programs.

We also have volunteer opportunities for those who are interested in both the United States and in India.

Learn more here: http://www.mindsfoundation.org/get-involved/

We would love to hear from anyone who would like to get more involved!

Please contact Raghu Appasani directly at: rappasani@mindsfoundation.org

Bookmark and Share |

You may also access this article through our web-site http://www.lokvani.com/

Home | About Us | Contact Us | Copyrights Help