'Letter From A Stranger, India' is helping many rediscover self-worth and self-love, discovers Meghna Chadha.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
Many of us would have gone through an emotional crisis at some point. But imagine not having anyone by your side? No professional help, no friends or family to turn to.
Paromita Bardoloi, 34, too was going through an emotional crisis when she turned to writing letters to heal herself and then others too and that was the beginning of the initiative 'Letter From A Stranger, India'.
"The year 2018 came with immense emotional crisis for me. After my initial phase of denial and protest, I got back to writing to my friends. I wrote each time my heart broke. I wrote each time I felt no self-love. I wrote each time I doubted my self-worth. My friends replied. And that was the beginning of the healing process," says Bardoloi.
She goes on to say: "As I was riding my crisis and writing letters, on March 30, 2019, I thought to myself that I have this whole support system of friends, family, therapists to help me, but what about those who don't have a support system. That hit me. So I just put up a post on my Facebook profile asking for five women who would write letters to people going through a rough patch. In an hour I had 37 of them."
The initiative rests on two pivots -- writers and receivers. The writers form a group to keep out trolls. The receiver is out on social media channels.
It is hosted once in two months and till date, the writers have replied to every request they have received.
Every writer gets 25 days to reply, and if anyone misses the deadline, someone else takes over.
After that if a receiver needs another point of view, another writer writes back. The message is, every request matters.
Currently, in its sixth circle, the writers have written over 150 letters for receivers across the globe.
The initiative is important in a country where mental health issues are a taboo subject so there is hardly any discussion.
According to the World Health Organisation, globally, more than 264 million people suffer from depression.
India is home to an estimated 57 million people affected by depression (22 per cent of the global estimate.)
A 2016 survey commissioned by the National Mental Health Survey of India revealed that 85 per cent of people with common mental health problems do not receive adequate treatment.
Clinical psychologist Dr Diya Nangia Kapoor says mental health issues have spiked in the country because of the many lifestyle changes -- "from a collectivistic society, we have moved towards being individualistic, which is an evolutionary change, but demands and needs and the resultant stress just keep piling up."
"Negative episodes are unavoidable but they can lead to a pattern -- of negative thoughts, comparisons etc," she adds.
"Letter from a Stranger is an initiative, but it should not take away the responsibility of accepting one's negative feelings or finding effective ways to deal with it," points out Dr Nangia Kapoor.
"An initiative is a step. At least it will help people speak out without the worry of being judged."
Asked if any letter or request has moved her, Bardoloi, who was born and brought up in Assam, says, "The most moving response I had was from a woman who was not speaking to anyone for six months, but who opened up to us and then had the strength and courage to deal with her own life. She said she felt heard and loved. We never heard from her again but we hope she is living a better life."
Bardoloi's efforts have been amplified by many like-minded people. "When Paromita told me about her letter-writing initiative, I did not have to think much before saying an excited 'yes'," says Ankita Anand, a letter writer.
"I write these letters not because I believe I am wiser but because while responding to the angst and dilemmas of others, I often stumble upon answers to my own questions," Anand adds.
"I had read somewhere that a solution to your problems is not to look for them but to help others deal with their conundrums."
"When a recipient writes back to say how she keeps coming back to my letter whenever she feels low, or how someone else has got it taped to her desk, it makes me feel useful and gives me the confidence to get over my own difficulties," says Anand.
A Miranda House graduate, Bardoloi hopes to one day publish a book compiling the best letters, which could become a guidebook for people who have lost their way.