INDIA: When There’s No Therapist, How Can the Depressed Find Help?

January 20, 2017

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark News


Seeking to address India’s behavioral health care shortage, a nonprofit organization is training members of the community in mental health counseling. Sangath was the first organization in the country to use lay counselors, who provide patients with emotional support and teach coping strategies for managing mental health issues. Deepali Vishwakarma, a lay counselor in Madhya Pradesh, said that educating patients is her most significant challenge. “The people don’t know they have depression because they don’t understand what depression is,” she explained. According to psychiatrist and Sangath cofounder Vikram Patel, lay counselors share the same linguistic and cultural backgrounds as patients, which helps them relate to one another. With lay counselors at work in two Indian states, Patel and others are seeking to scale up the program to the rest of the country. “We’re no longer asking can we use community workers, we’re asking how do we deploy them,” he said. Recent studies suggest that lay counseling may be an effective mental health intervention in settings where access to specialized behavioral health care is limited, and other countries are working to adopt the model. The approach has garnered some controversy, however, with critics arguing that lay counselors lack the specialized skills to provide adequate care.

Weekly Spark! Visit the Sangath website.