Unlocking youth wellness

The series aspires to support the forum’s objectives by disseminating knowledge and building stakeholder connections with vulnerable children and families,” said Dr Lakshmi Ravikanth, dean, The BALM.
The BALM (Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health) with the Sundaram Fasteners Limited unveiled its 4th edition of Lecture Series 2024
The BALM (Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health) with the Sundaram Fasteners Limited unveiled its 4th edition of Lecture Series 2024 (Photo | Express)

CHENNAI: We all carry mysteries within ourselves. This complexity amplifies further when it’s on our children, grappling with emotions beyond their cognizance and limited means to navigate them. Kindling a better life for these youngsters, The BALM (Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health) with the Sundaram Fasteners Limited unveiled its 4th edition of Lecture Series 2024 on supporting child and adolescent mental health in the context of social disadvantage and parental mental illness, on Monday at the CP Art Center.

Started in 2020, the forum is an annual effort to bring social scientists, mental health professionals, advocates, historians, thought leaders, and policymakers together to spark a discussion on equity, culture, social justice, mental health, and inclusive development. “We started The Banyan in 1993 with the mission to help homeless mentally ill women across India. Over the years, it has expanded to focus on education, research, policy, and training related to mental health. The series aspires to support the forum’s objectives by disseminating knowledge and building stakeholder connections with vulnerable children and families,” said Dr Lakshmi Ravikanth, dean, The BALM.

With the comprehensive insights of Dr Ramesh Raghavan, professor at Silver School of Social Work, NYU, the seminar introduced the idea of social vaccines — evidence-based programmes that build skill sets and promote child development in stage-appropriate capacities across domains like academics, self-regulation, and social skills. Highlighting India’s mid-day meal as a prime example of the world’s largest nutritional intervention in advocating welfare, he called it a universal programme fostering mental health, academic performance, and poverty alleviation. “The key to promoting mental well-being is to strengthen social ecology around children, including parental awareness and education. We have to build supportive relationships of children with their parents, teachers, peers, and community members for their excellent future,” said Ramesh.

In line with its vision of enhancing dialogue from diverse outlooks, the forum also facilitated a panel discussion with distinguished guests like N Ram, director, THG Publishing Pvt. Ltd., Dr Chetna Duggal, associate professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Dr KV Kishore Kumar, director, The Banyan & BALM, and Dr Ramesh. Addressing the overview of child well-being in India, the symposium shared views on various mental health concerns such as the impact of mental distress in families, societal factors contributing to adolescent mental health issues, suicidal rates, etc. “The compassionate systems focused on youth distress and wellbeing must be centered on listening to young people’s perspectives and shaping supportive contexts — rather than simple individualistic solutions,” shares Dr Chetna, redirecting the social-emotional learning programs (SELs) in the country.

A photo exhibition titled ‘Our Journeys: From Looking to Seeing’ by Ibrahim and Thenarasan, two young photographers who have been a part of The Banyan ecosystem since childhood was also unveiled. Living their dreams, Ibrahim now assists PC Sreeram, a film director and cinematographer, while Thenarasan is a trained photojournalist. Raised in the shades of the Banyan’s parentage during their mother’s rehabilitation days, the photographers explore their identity, environment, and relationship with mental health through a series of photographs, adding the elements of portraiture and documenting everyday life. “We feel delighted to pursue our passions and present our works with great mentors and platforms. The initiative will inspire children to achieve anything with the right support system behind them, which was The Banyan for us,” says Ibrahim.

Premiering the series, The Banyan, and BALM, supported by Sundaram Fasteners Limited, intensifies its work by supporting children of parents with mental illness with the launch of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMH) Unit.

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