Two years in, PETT Fellow Shama Parkhe sends this brief update on the work of the Hank Nunn Institute (HNI) in India:
The last seven months have been exciting, adventurous, challenging, depressing at times, all a part of our journey of setting up an unconventional mental health service for those with personality difficulties/disorder in the Indian context. We have received all kinds of responses - from 'what you guys are doing is the need of the hour', to 'personality disorder doesn't exist in India!' We are also in the search for a more culture-friendly term as opposed to using the term 'personality disorder'; however, 'personality disorder' is what helps us communicate best with the larger mental health system in India.
Our therapeutic community farm under construction: a metaphor for the progress of HNI. The building is nearly ready!
On the brighter side, our staff team has grown from 2 to 6 in the last two years (yes! we celebrated our 2nd birthday on 8th July), and so have the different kinds of services that we offer - ranging from outreach counseling, to individual psychotherapy, supportive psychotherapy, group psychotherapy, day therapeutic community, as well as training programmes such as the Living Learning Experience and a certificate course in understanding personality disorders for post graduate students of psychology. Our client turnover is still between 2 and 10 clients for all our services, except for outreach counseling, where the numbers are reaching 100 (includes people with visual and hearing impairment, profound disabilities, young offenders, and children/adolescents in orphanages). The challenge is to create better awareness of personality difficulties/disorders, which are otherwise understood as rude and manipulative behaviours, or badly behaved, lazy, and irresponsible people. Our interaction with the larger society has made us aware of the fact that 'mental health is a basic human need.' And our relationships are the basic therapeutic intervention/tool that facilitate the fulfillment of this basic need. As a result, we have now made all our treatment services free of cost.
At present, we are also in the process of setting up a horticultural therapeutic community on an organic farm, 200 kms away from Bengaluru. The idea is to make 'work on the farm' the primary therapeutic intervention, again for those with personality difficulties/disorders.
The local village around the farm has many youngsters who are disillusioned with the idea of 'big cities turning your dreams into reality' and have therefore dropped out of schools/colleges. At present, they spend their time either gambling or using alcohol and drugs as a way of dealing with their frustration. There have been quite a few instances of suicide - at least two every week - again as a consequence of frustration or despair. Yet, the idea of mental ill-health is limited to the extent of 'madness.' In addition, we also have barriers such as the regional language, caste system, gender inequality and so on which need to be penetrated carefully for the community to accept the idea of mental health and wellness.
The Living Learning Experience is a success with the next one coming up in August. I will be traveling to Sicily and Portugal in October to attend two LLE's as part of my continued training. I also plan to visit a few European TCs during my travel. Suggestions please!
I think this is all for now. I hope to write more regularly. With so much happening, it's difficult to keep up! But I would like to write more regularly so that too much of our news and experiences don't get lost!
Warm regards to all,
Shama Parkhe is co-founder with Anando Chatterji of the Hank Nunn Institute in India, Shama is a psychologist and therapeutic community psychotherapist with a passion for communication, for learning about, developing and sharing therapeutic community practice and understanding worldwide. In her podcast and news feature on the PETT website, Letters from Shama, Shama shares her exploration of the field and the work that is being created in India and elsewhere, introducing us to others in the field, bringing other voices in, and building a resource of creation and communication on which others can draw and grow from.
For more on PETT Fellows, see here.