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Mind Over Matter—Sitting Down With Amigo

In 2021, the mental health conversation is louder than ever before. Medical infrastructure needs to catch up to this conversation. Seeking mental help can be daunting, not only because of the stigma that surrounds it, but also lack of accessibility to quality services. Amigo is a tech startup by four MIT students aimed at developing an integrated online platform that connects professionals to those seeking help. An affordable healthcare initiative driven by Arko Chattopadhyay-CEO, Enrique Ferrao-CTO, Pranav Reddy-VP of Engineering & Design, Priyanshu Gupta-Chief Marketing Officer & Development Head, and Mohammad Shifaz-Head of Operations. The MIT Post got down to business with the co-founders of Amigo to break down their journey thus far.

Was there any specific reason which inspired you to create a start-up addressing mental health issues? Any particular incident or experience? 

Arko: I faced the need to seek some help because of personal issues I was going through. I never found a good service out there, online. And offline I just wasn’t ready to go. It was something I wanted to keep to myself. Later that year in the Manipal Hackathon 2020 there was a problem statement related to health care and that was on mental health. The other co-founders entered this particular problem statement as a team. I didn’t participate at first, but Pranav pushed me to try. So I found some other members and gave it a shot. I happened to qualify for the national finals.  We didn’t win owing to too many features to be built in very little time. However, we got a lot of key insights. The rest of my team left saying it was just a Hackathon project. I pursued it further, talking to people in Manipal, the student welfare department and trying to come up with a solid idea and build it into a proper startup. This was something I was passionate about, creating new infrastructure for the mental health market. I reached out to Pranav, Enrique and Priyanshu and all of them agreed to join. Priyanshu wasn’t sure how much of a help he would be at first, and now he heads Development. I had worked with Pranav and Enrique before. They now handle servers, website development and the like. That’s how the team came together. We started talking to therapists and conducting surveys. We work closely with the counsellors at the Student welfare department. We found that this is a product we can build, there is a vacancy in the market. And that is how we started. This took about a year to come together.

Priyanshu: I am a junior here. I met the other members as seniors in the Student Project Rugved Systems AI department. I didn’t think that I could be a part of something like this with my seniors. But here I am.

As young entrepreneurs, could you elaborate on the world of startups. How did you navigate it? What kind of help did you need and where did you find it?

Priyanshu: An advice to fellow batchmates. Just stay put. You don’t have to reach Mars in a month. Have a simple idea and think of its implementation, don’t wait for the perfect time, there is no such thing. Just take the first big step. Initially, we were also having second thoughts if we should go with this. But then we decided and went ahead. We realised-Yes we can do it. Even though others could have come up with this idea, no one did it. No one has really made any mental health focussed app in the country till now. I know it sounds like a cliché to “take a risk”. But honestly, it is not a cliché. The other members of my team, my seniors have dropped placements though they are perfectly qualified. They are taking that risk, to be completely focused on this. 

Arko: Don’t panic. We panicked about 3 months into full-time development of the product. We had doubts about the business model and its profitability, whether anybody would invest in us. We almost pivoted to a food tech app. After talking to many people in the startup industry, we noticed that most companies don’t make it to the 4-month mark. They lose motivation and drive. So the team matters. The people you are working with. Even if you pivot you need the team. Make a team and start building. Don’t panic.

Can you tell us about how one goes about getting investors? How do you present yourself and such?

Arko: Few of them have reached out to us. Investors are always looking for investment opportunities and they would love to come in as early as possible to get a major share in the company. So they are always actively scouting for startups. They must have come across us somewhere and then approached us.

Priyanshu: Sometime last year a VC contacted us, cause everyone knows that mental health is gonna be the next big thing, one of the next big markets. They wanted to invest, but we wanted to completely build the product first. We want to see how it works and then reach out to investors.

How has MUTBI (Manipal Universal Technology and Business Incubator) helped you? Any mentors who’ve played a major role?

Arko: We approached them for incubation and we are now in the final phase. We are talking to their business experts to see if our business model works. We are also in contact with other founders from MUTBI. Reaching out to them to hear about their journey and experiences. I spoke to the director of the Student Welfare Department, Miss Geetha M. and she told us that all her counsellors were available to us and to go ahead and approach them. About 7 months down the line we are actively working with them to build the product. Some of the Faculty in my branch are actively sharing our venture on social media. They are very excited about it, to grow the startup culture at Manipal. Out there, BITS Pilani has 5 or 6 unicorns, Swiggy, Big Basket to name a few. Manipal does not have such an active startup ecosystem yet. And we want to be an example to promote startup culture in Manipal.

The advantage of an app-based service goes beyond just convenience. Can you tell us about the benefit/role anonymity plays when someone is trying to reach out for help?

Priyanshu: About the anonymity feature you mentioned, there is complete privacy within the system that we have developed. When a user opens the site, it is completely their choice which therapist they want to talk to and at what time. Everything is the user’s choice. We play no role in deciding who the user talks to. We have the video calling and voice calling features within the application so that you don’t need Google Meet or Zoom links. There is no need to contact the therapists outside of the platform we have created. 

Arko: What we noticed is the lack of innovation in this field. There is no uniformity and nothing is aggregated into one single platform. So that’s what we are trying to do. And the anonymity feature is not just important for the client but also the therapists. Even though their name and speciality is information that is out there, other personal details should not be going out. Our therapists have told us in the past that they have received calls where they’ve been harassed. Our platform helps to weed out spam. We cater to those who come seeking help. 

Therapy is often about correcting fundamental mistakes that parents have been making for centuries, resulting in adverse consequences years later. How have your parents supported you? Would you like to give them a shout out?

Priyanshu: My family has been very supportive when it comes to this venture of ours, especially my father. He openly told me that he is even okay with me putting five years into this startup. He is always keen to know what is happening with Amigo and if there is any way in which he can help out. 

Arko: In fact, if it was not for Priyanshu’s dad we would not have an iOS app right now. His dad got him a Macbook which was needed for the iOS app development process. Coming to my parents, the fact that I am not sitting for placements and building a startup did raise some eyebrows but now they seem to be coming around it.

Your Instagram page says that it only takes 3 simple steps, can you elaborate on what those steps might be?

Arko: Choose the therapist, pick the slot and pay online. We have divided the kinds of counselling sessions available topic wise. Once you select the topic, a list of therapists comes up who specialize on that particular topic, after which you pick the therapist you would like to have your session with. Once that’s done all you need to do is book the slot and your counselling session is set up. Even with regards to payment, we have all the options available from UPI to credit cards. 

Priyanshu: Speaking of topics we have 24 total topics to choose from ranging from work-related stress to couple therapy. 

Arko: Even when it comes to the online session itself, other platforms usually conduct their session on skype or some other third party platform, with Amigo you can join in the session through the application 5-10 minutes before the slot timing by merely clicking on the “Join Session” button.

The counselling team can speak 12 languages and this is a highlight for anyone who comes across your app. Was this a happy coincidence or something you actively sought out?

Arko:  It’s something that was always on our minds since we are talking about people feeling safe and opening up. When it came to recruiting counsellors our main objective was to verify their credentials. We have 35 therapists in total and we have run stringent background checks with regards to their academic qualifications as well. And in this process, we always kept in mind the diversity of our country.

Priyanshu: From the beginning, our objective has been to reach out to as many people as possible. Especially people from tier – II and tier–III cities of our country. Undoubtedly, it is far easier for one to open up about their feelings in their mother tongue which is the language they are most comfortable in.  

Were there any particular setbacks you had to deal with along this journey of launching a startup? If so, could you tell us a bit about those setbacks?

Arko: A lot of people are not professionals in India, be it from banking to other legal formalities. Often processes can be very bureaucratic and little things can take 1-2 months’ time. If you were to compare it to how it happens in places like the US, these things don’t take much time. For example, even if a person wants to set up a bank account in India it can often take up to a week’s time. There is a great need for infrastructure in the mental health space in India so we definitely saw the potential of our idea. 

Priyanshu: I work on the technical side of things, so I often face setbacks with regards to sorting bugs in our code out and similar problems. But at the end of the day, we know that our venture is something that has a lot of potential and that’s what keeps driving us forward on a daily basis.

Featured Image Credits: Amigo




Controlled By Food—Cognizance for Eating Disorders

What is an eating disorder?

The public stigma surrounding mental health has marginalized and narrowed down opinions, leading to discrimination and bigotry. The recent surge in awareness has certainly helped to make people more tolerant and accepting of mental disorders. Yet, ignorance exists, which might impede one’s recovery by causing a delay in seeking professional help.

One such mental illness, prevalent and affecting at least 9% of the population worldwide, is the eating disorder.

Bar graph displaying the prevalence of various eating disorders. [Image credits –  Mirror Mirror]

An eating disorder (ED) is identified by abnormal and unhealthy eating habits which are detrimental to both the body and mind. The symptoms include eating too much or too little and constantly obsessing over the scale and one’s body shape.

Several factors come into play when identifying the true cause of an eating disorder, which includes and is not restricted to genetics, brain biology, personality, and society.

A person with a family history of eating disorders is more likely to develop one owing to it being hereditary in nature. Eating disorders are also common among people with personality traits like neuroticism, perfectionism and impulsivity.

In a world where the beauty of a person is defined by a female’s hourglass shape or a male’s rock-hard abs, it is not surprising to witness the staggering number of people suffering from body image issues.  This increases the need to conform to unrealistic societal standards, which is not helped by celebrities propagating and providing exposure to these unhealthy lifestyles. Adolescents and young women are especially triggered by these superficial ideologies, deteriorating their self-esteem and compelling them to undertake drastic measures like dieting in the form of starvation. This results in bingeing. The body is forcefully deprived and ends with guilt-consumed purging, effectively trapping the person in this vicious cycle and completely wearing out one’s mind.

Body dissatisfaction is a major reason for EDs in adolescents.[Image credits – Walden University]

Causes

Misinformation and fad diets propagated by famous influencers on various social media platforms are some of the biggest downfalls in body satisfaction. Young girls particularly are tricked into these unsustainable crash diets, which are projected into the internet without an ounce of research by influencers. No one questions the legitimacy of the information just because of the millions of likes and views the post has garnered. Although these diets may work for a short while, once you stop following them, they may exacerbate both the person’s physical and mental health.

It is crucial to realize that photos on the internet should not be perceived as reality. In the hopes of gaining approval and validation, eating disorders are easily triggered under the added pressure of attaining impractical beauty standards.

Types of Eating Disorder

The most common types of eating disorders are addressed below:

1. Anorexia Nervosa

The most common type of all eating disorders, anorexia nervosa, affects more females than males. This potentially lethal disorder is characterized by people perceiving themselves as overweight, although in reality, they are dangerously underweight. Anorexic individuals resort to extreme steps to control their body shape and size by excessively restricting their calories, purging the eaten food, using laxatives or exercising heavily.

Anorexia involves a severe limitation of food.[Image credits – Penn Today]

Anorexia is terribly debilitating and can cause brittle hair and nails, thinning bones and infertility as time passes.

2.Bulimia Nervosa

Patients diagnosed with bulimia lack control over the amount of food they consume, and often end up ingesting thousands of calories. They cease only when they fall asleep, are stopped by someone, or experience excruciating stomach ache. This comes from a place of dread of gaining weight, along with guilt and mortification, after a binge episode. The person tries to compensate for the extra calories eaten by forcefully vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics (water pills), fasting, and over-exercising.

Harmful side effects include worn tooth enamel and tooth decay, chronically inflamed throat, hormonal imbalance, severe dehydration and intestinal and kidney problems.

 3.Binge Eating Disorder

People with binge eating disorder consume abnormally large amounts of food, even though they might not be hungry during their binge episodes. They usually do this secretly to avoid embarrassment. Unlike anorexic or bulimic patients, people diagnosed with binge eating disorder do not attempt to turn to damaging methods such as purging and excessively exerting themselves to make up for the binge. Such individuals are generally overweight or obese, thus aggravating their risk of weight-related diseases and illness, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

4.Rumination Disorder

A person inflicted with this condition involuntarily regurgitates food they swallowed, which might then be rechewed and swallowed or spit out. This can result in weight loss, acute malnutrition, toothache, tooth decay or indigestion. Rumination disorder usually afflicts infants or people with intellectual disabilities.

5.Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

ARFID is a condition that generally starts developing during infancy or early childhood and can carry on into adulthood. Diagnosed people avoid eating due to lack of interest or dislike towards certain sensory characteristics such as smell, tastes, colours, textures, and temperatures. To replenish the body with the required nutrients, they are either tube fed or dependent on supplements to avoid deficiencies and overall poor development.

How to recognize if one is suffering from an eating disorder

People with eating disorders have a hard time accepting that their eating habits are not normal and hence continue living in denial and do not receive the treatment they essentially require. Contrary to popular belief, it is not just young, white females or skinny people who suffer from this psychiatric disorder. It does not see race, ethnicity, gender, age, or weight before beginning its torment.

If you suspect you or one of your loved ones has developed an eating disorder, be vigilant for the following red flags—

  • Hiding while eating to evade judgment
  • Skipping meals
  • Over-exercising
  • Experiencing feelings of guilt, revulsion, and embarrassment over-eating habits
  • Constantly thinking about food and calories.
  • Repeatedly observing yourself in the mirror for flaws
  • Callouses on knuckles from forced vomiting
  • Regular usage of laxatives and weight loss pills
  • Making frequent trips to the bathroom after a meal.

Skipping meals could be a sign of an eating disorder.[Image credits – WebMD]

How to help a loved one

Eating disorders are not to be taken lightly. It is imperative to understand that it is not a choice, nor can it be underestimated, considering that millions of people succumb to this life-threatening disorder.

Here are some tips to help you if you know someone that might be battling an eating disorder:-

  • Urge them to seek professional help as soon as possible. The longer it remains untreated, the more arduous the path to recovery will be.
  • Educate yourself about the disorder as much as you can. This will aid you in understanding even a fraction of what the other person is experiencing and coping with the challenges.
  • For better recovery, support them unconditionally and be patient with them.
  • Please do not comment on their physical appearance, blame or criticize them.
  • Be sensitive about what triggers them.
  • Try to empathize and communicate, even if it is just listening to them expressing themselves.

 Conclusion

Increased mental health awareness paves the road to a better-informed world and helps to disrupt the apathy surrounding it. Negative comments and thoughts worm easily into a person’s mind, giving rise to destructive behaviours and suicidal thoughts. Thus, it will persist in being one of the major reasons for the escalation in the number of people suffering from mental health diseases.

You are important. You do not deserve this illness. Beauty is not defined by your body shape but by your state of mind. Be kind to others, and most importantly,  to yourself. Your body does so much for you; do not treat it as anything less.

The path to conquering your disorder is tough, but the alternative is tougher.

Featured Image Credits: Huffington Post




Let’s Talk—AIESEC’s World Cafe on Mental Health

With the lockdown underway to safeguard one’s physical health, mental health has become the sacrificial lamb in this fight against Covid-19. To shed light on how this hapless struggle has taken a toll on mental health, AIESEC organised its first-ever virtual World Cafe in collaboration with Blank 101 and the Student Support Team. Their main aim was to initiate a healthy and mindful conversation between the attendees to influence a change in the right direction. This online interactive session took off at 5:45 pm on 19th July.

Image Credits: AIESEC in MAHE

Three speakers addressed the attendees, beginning with Satvik Sethi, founder and CEO of Runway, a student venture promoting mental health awareness. Mr Sethi shared his insightful journey in the creation of this virtual service which provides support to people suffering from mental health in silence. Following him, Syam K Ravindran, an experienced consultant in the Department of Clinical Psychology at MAHE enlightened the participants on the basics and nuances of degenerative human behaviour upon encountering a drastic and radical event and how to deal with it. The third speaker, Karthik Hariharan, a Counselling Psychologist and Mental Health Advocate, took a different approach. He dedicated his entire time online to address the attendee’s questions and ambiguities about mental health.

After each speaker finished, the participants were divided into groups with student delegates overseeing each group. In these groups, everyone shared their opinions on a question displayed on the screen, all the while maintaining decorum. Overall, three of these interactive sessions were held. The participants discussed their views on subjects like—if neurotic behaviour is promoted due to misinterpretation of mental health, if prevention of mental health is a viable solution as opposed to its cure, and where society as a whole is lacking in breaking the stigma around mental health. A few student delegates were called upon at the end of each discussion to share the narrative of their group dialogue. The event concluded with a promising speech from the student representative of the Student Support Team.

Image Credits: Youtube, Kirat Alreja

World Cafe began a discourse among people with different perspectives but strengthened an already strong objective that everyone shared—to shatter the stigma around mental health. In these challenging times, when the world is dwelling in hostility, events like this are vital to maintaining balance in society. It is, ultimately, the responsibility of the present and forthcoming generations to nurture a change as Mr Satvik Sethi in his speech rightfully said, “Change is coming. The youth is going to be the one to drive it forward.

Featured Image Credits: AIESEC in MAHE




Tackling The Taboo—A Conversation About Therapy

In a country like India, where the pressure on young people to achieve and be the best among their peers is constantly on the rise, it is almost inevitable that these severely high standards take a toll on the overall wellbeing of a person. Unsurprisingly, the statistics agree—nearly 63% of suicides in our country are committed by those in the 15-39 age group.

In spite of the growing threats to the mental health and wellness of the Indian population, the stigma surrounding these issues keeps a much-needed conversation from coming to the forefront. In most circles, even the mention of a possible mental ailment would bring about ruthless judgment for making a big deal out of something that’s “not real”. Oftentimes, this prevents anyone who might be suffering from a mental illness from seeking professional help in the form of therapy or medication. The concept of therapy, in general, is so stigmatised that people fail to acknowledge or even consider its benefits.

In a sit-down with The MIT Post, five students of MAHE shared their experiences with mental health issues, the process of recovery with the help of regular therapy, their support systems and so on, hoping to encourage more of those of who need professional help, to go ahead and seek it.

 Information from India Spend and NIMHANS study

Anonymous, 20, Manipal Institute Of Technology

“My mental health issues started during my first semester. I felt alone and cut off from most people and wasn’t very interested in college routine. I suffered anxiety attacks which sometimes took a toll on my physical health. It did occur to me that I may have been facing a problem but I did not want to put a ‘mental illness’ label on it, considering how others have much more pressing issues weighing on their minds. Using the term ‘depression’ for my case felt wrong. It wasn’t until my mother pushed me to seek help from the student counsellor did I feel that my problems were real and deserved to be treated. My friends were pretty understanding when I told them I was seeing a counsellor.

My first session with the counsellor at the Student Support Center helped me let out everything I had been bottling up. I was made to analyse my fears and come to rational conclusions as to why I was feeling that way. This helped put matters into perspective and alleviate my anxiety. Though there are no hard-and-fast solutions as such, she did tell me what I wanted to hear at that point in time. Apart from therapy, another outlet I use to deal with my anxiety is poetry. Channelling all my negative energy into writing helps immensely. If anything has been bothering me, I also talk to my friends and mother about it. If anyone is apprehensive about going to therapy, I want them to know that the counsellors are trying their best to understand our problems and help us overcome them. It is important to know that there is no shame in getting professional help to maintain one’s mental health. It does not make one weak-minded or fragile. There is absolutely no point in prolonging such an issue when a solution i.e, therapy, is available to us so readily.”

Ashmitha Srinivasan, 22, Manipal School of Architecture and Planning

“My anxiety stemmed from various issues, including family dynamics, excessive course work and so on. I was constantly being decked against my cousins’ achievements and my lack, thereof. Trying to live up to the extremely high standards I set for myself took a toll on my mental health. As the stakes got higher, my condition became worse. In my third semester, I felt I could no longer cope with my anxiety by myself and hence, started seeing a professional. I told my mother that I wanted to get help and thankfully, she was on board. Of course, I did not tell her the full extent of where the anxiety was coming from—just that it was course related. We went to meet a family psychiatrist and I spilt everything out to her. However, she did not evaluate me properly. She prescribed medications and asked me to take them until I got better. I realized this wasn’t going to work so, I left.

A friend of mine pushed me to give therapy another try and so, I decided to visit the Student Support Center. We worked through my issues and found out that I had lingering depression and anxiety, both of which were caused by ADHD, which I didn’t know I had, until then. Now that we knew where the problem arose from, we started working on ways to deal with it so that I don’t spiral back into depression. I religiously visited SSC weekly and then, bi-weekly for seven months before we got to the bottom of the issue. Once I began to feel a little better, the frequency of the meetings reduced and I now only go to therapy once in three weeks. A major factor of what makes me more comfortable with the therapist at SSC than with the one back home is the age gap. My therapist at SSC is much younger, which somewhat closes the generation gap, making her more capable of understanding the kind of issues the youth face. I did not have to put in any extra effort to help her understand where I was coming from—she just did.

A couple of sessions in, I decided to let my dad know that I was getting help. Initially, he did not take it well and assumed that I was making mountains out of molehills, “as people my age do”. Though he still does not understand the need for therapy, he does acknowledge the distinct change in my behavioural patterns. The lack of support probably arises from my parents not being able to digest the fact that they may have been responsible, in some way, for my issues.

Outwardly, people like to say they understand mental illness and are supportive of it. But when it comes down to it, when someone they know personally is going through a hard time, all they seem to say is “you’re not trying hard enough to get better”. This is the case with some of my peers and people in my life.

One thing anyone seeking therapy must know is that recovery isn’t instant. You can find out what you’re dealing with but learning to cope with it and possibly getting yourself cured is a completely different story. It might take months or even years, and you may relapse several times, but it’s important to believe in the process and stick to it rigorously. For anyone who knows someone suffering from a mental illness, keep in mind, you will never know what it feels like unless you’ve been through it yourself. So, don’t act like you know, instead—listen to them and make sure any advice you give, however well-intentioned, does not come off as insensitive.”

Anonymous, 21, Manipal Institute Of Technology

“For quite a while, I had been having insecurities about a lot of the things that the male sex is constantly judged for. It made me feel worthless to a point where I could not even take a compliment. While all of this added up, what really pushed me off the edge was when my relationship with my girlfriend ended. This happened right before the sessionals, which I ended up not performing well on. The party after sessionals kicked off my alcoholism—I realised that I had found a way to numb my feelings and replace my sadness with alcohol. Thus began my downward spiral.

For fear of not wanting to cause too much concern, I isolated myself from everyone. Often, those suffering from depression fail to realise the importance of sharing their problems with their friends and family. It may not solve the problem, but it does help lighten the burden. The suggestion that I should get help was put across to me by a friend who pointed out that I had been drinking all week and barely getting any sleep.  Another friend told me about her experience at the Student Support Center which further encouraged me to give it a go.

The Student Support Centre, Manipal

The atmosphere at the Student Support Center is very warm and welcoming. The ambience, with soft lighting and sofas and cushions all around, make for a comfortable setting. The counsellor gave me some tips to deal with my issues, the most important being to open up to others. I told my family about my therapy sessions only after I stopped going to them. Being on the more progressive side of the Indian parents’ spectrum, they took it pretty well. My friends were supportive too and urged me to talk to them whenever I needed to. If anyone is going through a similar problem, I’d urge them to, first and foremost, talk about it to someone. We do not have to do this alone. Humans are, by nature, social creatures. We need connections and interpersonal bonding to be able to live a fulfilling life. In a place like Manipal, chances of being judged for seeking help are very less. Most people here are accepting and understand that we all come with our own baggage and there is no harm in requiring some external help to deal with it.”

Anonymous, 21, Manipal Institute Of Technology

“Around the end of 12th grade and the beginning of my first year at college, I realised that I was having a lot of trouble communicating in large groups. I was always anxious before any social events or gatherings. Throughout the first year, I rarely ever left my room and would often miss classes. Simple things like picking out a t-shirt to wear in the morning would take me half an hour. At first, I assumed that all of this was just general nervousness. But my friends had noticed my behaviour too and recommended that I seek professional help. When I spoke to my father about therapy, he wasn’t too receptive to the idea. He was under the impression that it was only for people with serious mental instability. When a child falls down and hurts themselves, we immediately take them to see a doctor. Mental health issues are very much the same. Finally, after one month of persuasion, I started therapy. I was diagnosed with panic disorder and major depression.

Image source: BuzzFeed

For the first year of therapy, I didn’t feel much of an improvement. The only difference was that the medication would numb me and help me feel more at ease. Finding the right therapist is very difficult. I often felt like I wasn’t being heard. They would just take notes and write prescriptions for pills. It’s important to feel comfortable in therapy. Sometimes you might even be told by a professional that you’re completely fine, but if you feel inside that something isn’t right, continue to seek help. One of the most important things my therapist said to me was that these issues never really go away. The best you can do is learn how to deal with them when they come up. After 3 years of therapy, I’m now off medication. I’ve learned to deal with situations that trigger my depression. It is important to know how much you can deal with in social situations. They can be very draining for me, but I’ve learned to say no to my friends when I feel like I don’t have it in me to deal with the pressure.

The conversation surrounding mental health in Manipal has increased a lot in the past couple of years. After the setting up of the Student Support Centre, people seem to be more aware of these issues. However, I still feel uncomfortable discussing my anxiety or depression with my peer group. A lot of times, I’m still told that all my issues are “in my head”. The university should focus on teaching students the essential skills to deal with the high amounts of stress they experience. Teachers can also be of great help, as they are constantly in touch with the students. It’s easy to feel lost and alone when you have depression or anxiety. Having someone to guide you through the whole process would make things a lot easier.”

Sudhanshu Srivastava, 21, Manipal Institute Of Technology

“I had been having a difficult time and was showing symptoms of anxiety and mild depression. One of my friends, who knew what I was going through, suggested that I consider therapy. There were a lot of options to choose from, but the SSC seemed like the most accessible and comfortable choice. I went there quite regularly, about twice a week for 6 months. Most of my close friends knew that I was seeing a therapist. Somehow, I’ve still not gotten around to telling my parents, which I feel is slightly unfair considering they did suggest therapy to me, a couple of years before college. I am unsure of how they’d react to it and I do not want to make too big a deal out of it.

The discussion surrounding these issues has become a lot better in recent years, due to a large number of awareness campaigns across the country. People are still occasionally taken by surprise when they hear that I go to therapy, and not everyone reacts positively to the idea of seeking help for depression or anxiety. I am strongly of the opinion that everybody should try therapy at least once. Therapy is self-care—it’s an hour of focusing on just yourself and voicing the thoughts in your head that you cannot otherwise say out loud. Keeping these thoughts to yourself can take a massive toll on your wellbeing, without you even realising. It is a daunting task to try and find somebody who understands your situation without passing judgement. But once you do, it feels really good. Therapy has helped kick-start my recovery, and it has given me healthy ways to deal with all the issues that I face. To anybody considering therapy, or even remotely open to the idea, I’d say go for it. It’s about finding someone that you can trust, to help ease the heavy load of everyday stress on your mind.”

In an attempt to help students navigate the trials and tribulations of college life and any other concerns, The Directorate of Student Affairs, MAHE has set up the Student Support Center, a service that students can avail, free of cost.

Contact the Student Support Centre via their website, or call between 9 am and 8 pm– 0820-2922430
For a medical emergency, please call – 0820 2923154/ 22246
For Ambulance services, call – 0820 2922761

Need help? 
AASRA (Suicide Prevention Helpline) 022 2754 6669
Spandana, 24-hour Helpline – 65000111, 65000222
For more sources of help in Manipal, as well as all over India, take a look at SSC’s list of helplines. 

Featured image credits: Vibha Bhat




Taking Strides Towards Better Mental Health−Manipal Marathon 2019

On 17th February, at the crack of dawn, the streets of Manipal were taken over by a sea of blue. Thousands of participants ran together as a part of Manipal Marathon−organised by Manipal Academy of Higher Education, in association with Manipal Runners’ Club and Udupi District Amateur Athletics Association.

Credits: The Photography Club, Manipal

The event which was based on the theme of Mental Health Awareness witnessed a footfall of 8500 people, giving it the distinction of the largest marathon in India to be organised by a student body. The marathon was divided into four main categories−namely 21K, 10K, 5K and 3K run. The 3K race was further divided into Corporate, High School, Primary School, and Open category. The Open category witnessed the highest participation, as families and individuals, young and old, ran side-by-side. The marathon was flagged off by guests of honour such as Sri Laxman Nimbargi, the Udupi Superintendent of Police, and Commander Abhilash Tomy, the first Indian to complete a non-stop solo circumnavigation of the world under sail.

Following the run, a carnival was organised at KMC Greens. The children engaged in games such as sack races and Tug of War. The adults, on the other hand, took part in Zumba sessions and laughter exercises. All the runners were provided with breakfast and refreshments. In keeping with the theme, students from various colleges such as MCH, WGSHA, and MCOPS had set up stalls to spread information regarding this increasingly pertinent issue. “Mental Health is as important as physical well-being. There is no shame in seeking professional help if necessary,” said Mehdiya Pyardi, a School of Allied Health Sciences student.

Credits: The Photography Club, Manipal

The event came to an end with the distribution of prizes and medals to the participants. The team of 400-strong volunteers from the Volunteer Services Organization ensured that the proceedings ran smoothly. “Manipal is a student town, and this demographic is highly susceptible to mental health issues. If the marathon brought about a change in attitude even for one person, I believe, the event was a success,” said Rahul Konapur, the President of Manipal Runners’ Club, speaking about the importance of the event. Overall, the marathon was reasonably successful, considering it drew a massive number of participants and started a conversation about mental health.

Featured Image Credits: The Photography Club, Manipal