Mental health in focus here
By Shilpa Vasudevan | Published: 22nd October 2012 12:00 AM |
An offshoot of The Banyan, Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health (BALM) was started here in 2007 primarily to create valuable human resource to treat mental health. “India has around 3,000 psychiatrists, which is too little for a population of 1.2 billion. There is a paucity of nurses, social workers, psychologists and others in this line of work (mental health). We at BALM strive to bridge this gap,” begins Mirjam Dijkxhoorn, deputy director, BALM. BALM works as a separate model from The Banyan (an NGO working with homeless persons with mental health issues) and offers short-term courses for groups that work in mental health such as doctors, community workers, etc.
“We don’t go into technical details since not all of them are doctors and have had specialised education but teach them about basics of mental health, issues they need to identify, places to refer for treatment of such persons, to what extent it is possible to treat them, etc. For the doctors, we delve into pathological and clinical aspects,” explains Dijkxhoorn adding that not a penny is charged for these services but people are welcome to contribute if they are willing.
Research is a major focus at BALM. “We have students and researchers who study about the works of The Banyan in detail and see if our solutions work,” explains Dijkxhoorn who holds an MSc in cultural anthropology and sociology of non-Western countries from University of Amsterdam.
“Interns or researchers are mostly from the institutes we have tie-ups with such as Tata, UCL, etc. In order to collaborate with us for mutual needs (read research and other opportunities), you need to submit a statement of purpose. Our team then assesses your application and takes it forward,” explains Lakshmi Ravikanth, honorary director, BALM. She also mentions the Action Research Programme at BALM where practitioners study mental health in social action.
Says Gayathri of Ratan Tata Trust that funds several projects of Banyan such as Community Living Project, Kovalam Project (where a campus of BALM is located), Urban and Rural Mental Health Projects, “We are creating a reference manual for NGOs that wish to work in mental health. We chose to document BALM among five institutes we selected and we are here to study their community-based mental health model. There are other components of mental healthcare that extend beyond just clinical funding. Especially the lower-income groups, they need much more than just funding.”
There is also a two-year master’s in social work (in mental health) in association with Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, which kickstarted this year. “We help TISS with the curriculum and tutoring. The degree would be conferred by TISS while BALM would assist with placements. Some of them could work with us right here. We also help with internships and research,” says Dijkxhoorn. “This is the first time social work and mental health have been amalgamated in a public health scenario,” adds Ravikanth. This course can also be undertaken at other campuses — TISS, Mumbai, Central University of Tamil Nadu, Tiruvarur, and Mental Health Action Trust, Kozhikode. Intake for each of this campuses is limited to 20. Last date to apply for this course is November 17. Admissions are based on a common national entrance test to be held on January 13, 2013. You can apply online at www.admissions.tiss.edu.
Interns are regularly visiting BALM, both from local and international institutes. “They are assigned specific assignments, case work, etc, the studies of which richly contribute to The Banyan’s work. These internships range from a few weeks to a few months,” says Dijkxhoorn. Says Bob Silverstein, a lawyer-turned-nurse who flew all the way from New York to assist BALM, “I have come here to assist them with infection control. For the past couple of weeks, I have been observing the residents of BALM, how they cook food, take care of themselves, etc. I will make a recommendation report with regards to infection control.” BALM has also trained organisations that work on healthcare such as Family Planning Association of India, Hand In Hand NGO, Panchayati Raj, etc. Details at www.balm.in.