The Happiness Project: Apoorvi's Changemaker Journey
This story was written by Vedha Bandaru and has been edited for length and clarity.
Growing up, Apoorvi saw her sister suffer from clinical depression. Watching someone she loves struggle with a mental illness, Apoorvi became increasingly empathetic and curious to the topic. This drive strongly influenced the classes she selected to take in secondary school, which school followed the IB curriculum. One of the subjects that she studied was psychology, and by doing so Apoorvi was able to scientifically learn more about abnormal psychology, the causes for disorders, and the complexity of mental health. The more she immersed herself into the subject, the more she was able to identify the signs of mental illness.
Through her studies, Apoorvi understood the urgency and importance of placing mental health professionals and counselors inside of schools to improve student health, but when taking a closer look into this issue, she noticed the lack of awareness and professionals surrounding mental health in government schools. Government schools, known globally as public schools, are free in India for children under the age of 14, which are known to have limited access to resources for students.
These schools predominately serve low-income communities as most students experience intergenerational poverty. Apoorvi learned that access to mental healthcare services wasn’t accessible by everyone and, in fact, having access to mental health services is considered a privilege.
Faced with this new reality, Apoorvi wondered why her school had regular wellbeing workshops along with two in-school counselors, but government schools only had one counselor for every ten schools or less. With the help of her parents’ and her school’s support, and at the age of 16, Apoorvi combined both her passions - psychology and helping others – and launched the Happiness Project. Her idea for the Happiness Project is to spread positivity and happiness, encouraging vibrant school environments that prioritize wellbeing and mental health of every student.
A happy environment for Apoorvi means providing young people with a caring community that prioritizes holistic wellbeing, which can include increasing access to appropriate mental health care facilities and educating students, faculty, and parents about the importance of mental health.
Although Apoorvi faced multiple difficulties getting her initiative off the ground, such as resistance from school authorities when she pitched the idea as teachers were not keen on changing their schedule with "extra work". However, the biggest challenge she faced was approaching the topic of mental health altogether. Her first step was to talk to a school psychologist to better understand the problem and determine a solution. In most of Indian society, mental health is still seen as a taboo, and the complexities of mental health are often ignored. At the same time, very few people, Apoorvi discovered, are willing to learn more about it unless someone close to them was suffering.
Due to preconceived notions and stigmas attached to mental illnesses, Apoorvi learned that many people of all ages are not admitting that they are struggling because they are afraid of what others will think. Without proper acceptance, awareness, and education, many people are oftentimes afraid of themselves as well. Apoorvi, eager to promote happiness over fear, needed to provide local schools and teachers with the facts. She thought that statistics of their own students' health and needs would showcase the urgency of the problem and, in effect, measure their happiness level. The survey she designed would account for topics like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and body image.
These findings, Apoorvi believed, would re-enforce the severity of the problem in order to begin to normalize wellbeing in schools. She called it the Happiness Quotient, which would inform teacher trainings and advocacy strategies to promote both awareness and action around students’ mental health.
Through Apoorvi’s efforts, the Happiness Project has since established a critical conversation about mental health, gradually challenging the stigma around it within the schools she serves. Through this venture, students are encouraged to talk about their own experiences and even activate others to talk about their own wellbeing. These conversations enable Apoorvi to rally a team of other passionate young changemakers who are committed to eliminating the stigma against mental health amongst their peers.
Always innovating, Apoorvi and her team are developing an app that will increase the accessibility of their Happiness Quotient in more schools. Apoorvi, looking ahead, intends to create youth-led teams to manifest the values and initiatives of the Happiness Project in cities across the country. She also aspires to administer a mass survey on student wellbeing to initiate dialogue in places where wellbeing and mental health are greatly overlooked.
Dedicated to wellbeing, Apoorvi aspires to pursue a career in public health or psychology. But today, Apoorvi continues to surround herself with other powerful young changemakers who are working together to create a happier world.