Most young adults in college focus on achieving short-term goals—saving their bigger dreams for after graduation. But some students, like Raghu Appasani, just can’t wait to tackle their biggest aspirations.
Appasani, a first-generation Indian-American, was born and raised in the Boston, Massachusetts area, but lived in rural India for two years as a young child. On his way to earning a degree in Neuroscience & Behavior and Science in Society, he founded The MINDS Foundation the summer before his junior year at Wesleyan University. MINDS is a nonprofit organization that provides grassroots mental health education programs, medical treatment, and reintegration services in rural India. In August 2013, the organization was selected as a 2013 Community Partner of The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation.
“I founded MINDS with a passion to bring the human right of proper mental health resources back into the hands of those in the most vulnerable regions of the world,” Appasani said.
MINDS defines three primary barriers to mental health care in India: accessibility, economic stress, and social stigma. Individuals suffering from mental illness—particularly those living in rural regions outside of major cities—often have limited access to medical professionals, facilities, and resources due to transportation and accessibility problems. There is only one psychiatrist for every 300,000 citizens in India, and when such individuals actually reach professional care, they are often unable to afford the long-term counseling and medication treatment necessary to treat mental illness.
Appasani and his team are committed to a grassroots, holistic approach to eliminate stigma and provide high-quality, cost-effective mental healthcare in every corner of the rural world. The organization partners with existing health institutions to strengthen mental health services in their respective regions. They do this by combatting the three primary barriers through a unique program that is implemented through three phases focusing on community education, transportation and medical care, and training of community mental healthcare workers to enable reintegration of clients into their community.
“Within the next year, we aim to be providing service to at least 40 villages—to some 60,000 rural citizens—and have mental health workers in place in each community,” Appasani said. “Two years from now, we aim to implement our program in another region of India through further partnerships with local health institutions. Five years from now, we aim to implement our model in partnership with other health institutions in other developing countries to effectively provide mental health care to remote rural regions—specifically in Brazil.”
Appasani has shown since his time in college that his goals are not meek. He has a clear focus on creating positive change for people around the world. Not surprisingly, he and the team at MINDS have already made progress toward the goals they had for the grant money.
“We have successfully hired a research assistant that has begun working with schoolteachers to prime them up for the program,” he said. “Last August, one of our U.S.-based research associates, Shyam Desai, went to our field site in India to put together a research proposal with our local team and get it approved through the Institutional Ethics Committee. The purpose of this proposal is to gather data about initial attitudes and knowledge of mental health in rural primary schoolteachers. The interviews and data will be collected in June and July. Following that, our team will adapt our mental health curriculum for rural primary schoolteachers. We plan to begin educating the schoolteachers in November 2014.”