Advancing Mental Health in Conflict areas

Krishna was elected an Ashoka Young Changemaker from India in May 2022. This story was written through a consultative process during their selection to our global community.

Growing up in the trouble-torn region of Jammu & Kashmir, Krishna was closely cognisant of the struggles people waged against deteriorating mental health in their daily lives. Troubles from the conflict and militancy make their way into the minds and bodies of people of all ages, saddling them with various afflictions. A lack of avenues for dealing with such issues and the unrelenting stigma attached to speaking about it and seeking help for poor mental health has only made things worse. Sensing this in his family and his neighborhood prompted Krishna’s interest in this field. 

What really solidified his interest and propelled him to take tangible action was a small incident in his classroom. A fellow classmate seemed aloof and silent for days on end. He rejected all advances made by Krishna to talk or socialize and remained withdrawn. “This made me think a lot. This made me think about other students as well. I tried to identify those students who were living under some unknown stress and were not even able to share among their own peer group”, said Krishna. Along with his friends, he started searching for solutions that might help his fellow classmate and other people who were in the same situation.

They started campaigning for mental health awareness and identifying and approaching people to better communicate with them. This proved to be difficult as the shame and stigma often discouraged people to be open. “It was difficult for me. As a student and a little boy, convincing people to speak up about their problems was hard. But I didn’t give up”, he recalled. He, along with his team, gathered all available resources, the latest research and put them to use to develop strategies. They incorporated Sangeetha Chikithsa, the ancient Indian technique to use music to connect with people, continued campaigning and reaching out to people. The feedback was encouraging. This is how Maunitva Nirakaran started- a team that now boasts of 40 volunteers, 7 Cause Ambassadors, and 10 Core Team members.

The organization approaches mental healthcare on a community level. They work by connecting people with mental health issues to experts, “They share their problems with us using Instagram or via mail and we further connect them to mental health experts", he explained. They organize webinars, podcasts, open-mics, debates, and plantation drives to build a robust awareness among the masses. They are also drafting a proposal to make mental health part of their local schools’ curriculums.

In one of the webinars, Krishna recalls a family who mentioned that their child was fond of the river Jhelum, but the child kept insisting how “just like the deep water of Jhelum, there’s something deep that affects my brain”. Upon connecting the family with experts, they found out that their child was showing symptoms of PTSD. “They even spread the awareness about the same among other parents”, said Krishna.

Krishna has big plans for the future. He wants his movement “to bring a revolution in the mind-set of society” and to ultimately destigmatize seeking help for mental health. He hopes to launch a curriculum for school students to get a robust knowledge about mental health. He also plans to expand his organization and involve more professionals. Furthermore, he also wishes to build various programmes and partnerships that will support young people as they get started in change-making.

This story was written by Prachi Vats.