Health Collective is building a safe space for conversations on mental health and illness, reports Sneha Bhattacharjee.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
Amrita Tripathi was a journalist for 15 years before she founded the Health Collective -- a safe space for conversations, trusted information and resources on mental health in India.
The organisation represented who she was, as well as what she thought the mental health arena needed: Dialogues in a safe space around problems such as depression via accessible, conversational reporting, and story-telling.
"Today we have about 200 stories on the site -- a mix of original reporting, expert columns and very powerful first person stories on living with conditions like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and more," Tripathi says.
The site also has comic strips including one by Solo -- an artist who has borderline personality disorder and uses illustrations to communicate what it's like on the other side.
Globally, reports say one in every four people is likely to face a mental health challenge at some point in their lifetime.
The National Mental Health Survey in India says one in every 10 adults in India will have a mental disorder at any given time.
However, an interview for the Web site with Dr Vikram Patel, a psychiatrist, put it in context for Tripathi.
"He said this does not mean that the other 90 per cent of us have 'good' mental health," she says, adding: "If we don't talk about what the implications and access to help mean to us, we are doing ourselves a disservice".
In her three-year association with Health Collective, Tripathi has wondered whether there is an audience for this kind of information.
"We crossed about 100,000 unique visitors to the site sometime last year, with zero marketing or PR," she quips.
Having said that, it has not been easy to get people on board.
The main challenge is around getting people comfortable enough to talk.
"Many of the contributors we work with have some very personal connection to this world, but that means we have to be empathetic, flexible with deadlines and, above all, ethical.
"The challenge in a space like this is to ensure that you're doing no harm.
"So, we also don't commission or chase after first-person stories.
"I do very light edits and keep it as unintrusive as possible; I am more than happy for people to share a pseudonym if they want, instead of using their names.
The last thing we want to do is trigger someone," Tripathi adds.
And, then, there are challenges around funding.
"While several editors have also commented on the quality of content, there's unfortunately no model for paying for content (or syndication).
"The reporters sometimes share some of the sites that are 'inspired' by our stories regularly, rather than crediting our work, which is also not ideal," she adds.
The challenge for Health Collective in such a scenario is keeping this information open and accessible to all -- especially as they branch into languages -- while working out a sustainable business model.
When asked if she ever felt like leaving the task midway, Tripathi says it can be overwhelming sometimes.
But, the incredible e-mails, comments or testimonials that come in every once in a while on the Web site, keep her going.
"What more could I ask for, in terms of validation, than a reader writing in a year after discovering the site to say that it helped her through a tough time?
"Or another reader saying reading some of these stories makes her feel less alone?
"That she is a part of this community now?
"That makes me realise this is bigger than any one of us and, collectively, we are such a powerful force to reckon with," says Tripathi.
Funding so far has come through a mix of syndication of content and private entities.
The foundation is soon going to launch a three-part book series commissioned by Simon & Schuster India.
The next big step, Tripathi says, is to create and curate content and safe spaces in regional languages.
"We are also working on a sustainable business model that will allow us to collaborate more on offline projects for impact.
"We do want to have these conversations outside the metros too," she notes.
For Tripathi, having a conversation and being empathetic towards another person is of extreme importance.
And, that is what she wants people to "equip themselves" with.
She concedes that it is a tough ask but is optimistic about creating a safe space for anyone who wants to reach out, and tell them that they are not alone.