What started out as a small initiative by Yashika Singh and a group of a few young individuals is now one of the leading torch bearers of mental health advocacy in the country. Beyond Meds Foundation has indeed come a long way. The non-governmental organisation, running constructively over 100 intellectuals worldwide, aims to spread the trinity of Mental Health Awareness, Psychological Well Being & Social Welfare. Beyond Meds was the product of isolation that bloomed in January 2020. Within a year of cumulative efforts, the NGO is no more limited to the Delhi NCR but runs over multiple cities of Rajasthan and Gujarat.
Here are a few snippets from our talks with Aditi Tripathi, the current Executive Producer (Instagram team) and soon to be President of BMF Vadodara:
Quarantine has got us all in this monotonous cycle of boredom. How are you spending your time in these times of the pandemic?
Well, this has been hard for all of us. We are all trying to find ways to be busy or indulged with something. Now that I’ve joined the NGO, it’s safe to say that I am being busy and constructively using my energy. Otherwise, I was as anxious as anybody else during the pandemic. Other than that, I have been practising music, training my pet dog and making plans to make this month (May), Mental Health Awareness month, a remarkable one. The team is busy organising various webinars, and Instagram live sessions with guests as various talented psychologists so that there is a transparent conversation between the audience and the specialists.
We know that you support the cause of mental health and disseminate its importance. What led to the foundation of Beyond Meds in the first place?
Yashika Singh, the Founder and the President of the NGO, was in high school when she first thought of giving birth to this organisation. She personally was going through a phase of anxiety and stress while being in school. There are various reasons why high school can be hard for a teenager, and so was the case with her. After completing her school, she realized there were not many institutions that prioritized mental health or related sectors, making her determined to open her own organisation. Yashika laid the foundation stone of Beyond Meds by creating a social media page on Instagram with few other acquaintances, like Parth Agarwal, the co-founder and the Vice President of BMF, and registered this NGO under the Companies Act 2013. This is how Beyond Meds came to life.
In which all states have Beyond Meds laid their feet? Are you planning to expand the NGO to a more significant level?
Yes, definitely. So, Beyond Meds Foundations is right now headquartered in the Delhi NCR. We have started expanding this family by opening our sub-branches in the cities of Rajasthan like Jodhpur and Jaipur. Other than these, some popular branches of BMF are present in Mumbai, Maharashtra, and Ahmedabad, Gujarat. We are planning to open another one of our sub-branches in Vadodara, Gujarat. Our reason for expansion is self-explanatory; we wish to spread the word about mental health and its importance as much as we can. The volunteers working with us are just as passionate and ambitious about the concept as we are. People need to be aware of how normalized mental illness actually should be. Our small waddles may turn into a big leap, and maybe someday we wish to establish ourselves globally too.
Is it hard talking to people who have been fighting battles mentally with themselves? Dealing with such a person must be a tough situation, right?
Okay, I wouldn’t say it’s hard talking to people who are having a rough time mentally because, when you start working for a particular cause with people around you that strive and work together for a single purpose, you learn a lot of things, and one of them is patience. Working in an environment with such skilled people is a guide to dealing with such people, what to say to them and what approach to follow while conversing with them. There are times when an individual comes to us with a heavy heart, tries to talk to us but in another second leaves us unseen. They hesitate; they don’t know how to express themselves. In such scenarios, we empathize with them; we tell them we are here to hear and try to make them talk to us. Initially, it takes time to be habitual to such sudden human behaviour and coming to terms with a human mind, but, eventually, pieces fall into place. When they don’t wish to talk to us, we provide them with psychologists who can provide better guidance than we ever could. It’s not really a typical situation for us, maybe for someone who is an outsider, who doesn’t know much about psychology might find it difficult. We, on the other hand, know our work, and we do it promisingly. Long story short, one might find it difficult to drive a car when they have zero knowledge about it, but once you are familiar with the gears and the steering wheel, the car can move around swiftly!
Have you had any amazing or crazy experiences while working with the NGO? Could you share that with us?
We try to have a friendly and positive environment amongst ourselves in the NGO. We are formal, but you become like a family when you work together for a significant number of days. So recently, our co-founder, Parth Agrawal, organised a small award function for us volunteers. Each member was given an award based on their distinguished talent. For example, I sing well, so I was given the ‘Tony Kakkar award’. Parth makes sure each of us gets motivated to work better every time; that’s why he organises such informal meetings to get to know each other a bit better. All of this is part and parcel of our job. We have fun.
We are all aware of how Corona/Covid-19 has severely affected people worldwide, not only financially but also mentally. What is your take on that?
We do feel that there is an evident impact on the people due to the pandemic. Especially when we switch on our televisions or read the newspaper, all we can hear or see are death tolls, active cases tolls, lack of health infrastructure, our country’s economy, etc. It has a major impact on us because all of this news is negative in nature and bring negative energy to our brains. All of this is detrimental to our mental peace. For this reason, we especially give breaks to our volunteers so that they can have time off such pressurizing work and don’t feel burdened. Hence, we don’t make it compulsory for them to work. When people come to us, we suggest psychologists who can help them with their negativity for cheap rates. We are updating our audience, or anyone who wants help, with 24/7 available covid relief resources, mental health resources and make sure we are updating them with useful contacts and incentives.
“We need to make a society where mental health is given the same importance as physical health.”– Beyond Meds Foundation
In India, coming from a country that holds a stigma against mental health and its treatment, how do we fight this deeply rooted stereotype?
We keep proving to the nation and the people through our campaigns like ‘Basta’ and ‘Mission Pehchan’ that mental health issues and treatments should be normalized. We keep publishing blogs on our website on the topics that require attention; 5k people like to read them. Hopefully, we are doing our best in spreading the word decently. We wished we could enhance its impact more, but I guess we are doing pretty well as teenagers.
Do you think anxiety, depression & hypertension in teens is a new phenomenon because psychological studies suggest that mental health problems have gone up exponentially to a 48% increase from 2004 to 2019?
No, definitely not a new phenomenon. It’s just that teens have become more awake and aware of such illnesses. Credit goes to NGOs like ours, which work tirelessly to support and spread awareness against its stigma. Social media has a greater role in making people come together and raise a voice against the stereotypes against mental health. People make group chats, conduct seminars, and post actively about mental health issues, thus becoming more vocal about them. As more and more institutions are coming into play, teens find it okay to come out and speak out about their issues with anxiety or depression.
What other areas have Beyond Meds leapt towards? What other sectors do you work for?
Majorly we focus on three initiatives – mental health awareness, affordable psychological treatments and shaping of kids with special needs. Other than these, we try to cover areas like environment and sustainability. Our Jodhpur branch had a campaign that supported planting more trees. So, we make sure we are not just stressing over mental health but also focus on other social and environmental issues.
‘“You go to a doctor when you have a fever; likewise, you go to therapy when you feel anxious or depressed.“– Aditi Tripathi, President BMF Vadodara
How can we understand if a member of our family is suffering through a hard time mentally? We often observe different changes in the behaviour of our loved ones. How do you suggest we should guide them or help them?
There are three steps to this. First, we need to create a friendly environment at our houses. Secondly, we need to make sure that mental health is not something that has to be talked about formally. One needs to normalise mental illness and abnormalities. Thirdly, we must become good listeners. It is not always that a person wants guidance. Sometimes your ears will be enough for them to come out and speak what they feel. We need to convince people to take therapy just like we consult any other doctor. People are often embarrassed to take therapy; they feel shackled by the thought of what the judgemental society would have to say on that. But I would say therapy is the answer. Be kind, listen when necessary, talk when necessary. You don’t have to be a professional to help your family.
What does your NGO aim to do next? What is the next chapter in Beyond Meds’ story?
The next beautiful chapter is ‘Mission Pehchaan’, which is currently on hold because we give COVID-19 the priority it needs. We launched ‘Mission Pehchaan’ as an initiative to open up schools for children with special needs. We want to give children the education and the childhood they deserve. Such kids are often bullied in a normal schooling environment. So, we want them to have the attention they deserve and shine bright like any other intellectually abled kid. Also, as I mentioned earlier, we are planning to grow the Beyond Meds family to Vadodara as well now and are in the works of creating a team already. We want more and more people to join forces with us to achieve this common goal of spreading mental health’s importance.