- Tribal woman Sumitra Gargai helps hundreds with mental illness across different villages.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) says that community development programs often lead to significant gains in rural people’s mental well-being.
Though mental healthcare centers are now spreading across India, many people in rural areas are still battling with various mental illnesses and suffering in silence due to a lack of medical care in villages, a 2018 study has revealed.
Sumitra Gargai, a woman of Jharkhand’s Ho tribe and a member of Ekjut (A civil society organization) talked about her fight against mental illness taboos in rural India. She shared that she faced extreme harassment and emotional torture after her marriage as she gave birth to three daughters while her in-laws wanted a son. “My in-laws resorted to physical, mental, and emotional abuse because I did not give birth to a boy,” Susmita said.
The harassment she faced over the years was extremely disturbing for her and it gradually turned into depression. In 2004, she came to know about Ekjut that provides mental healthcare to marginalized people. She contacted the volunteers of the organization and shared her grievances. After a few therapy and counseling sessions by the volunteers, Sumitra started recovering slowly. She was even offered to work with Ekjut in their initiative to reduce malnutrition among children.
In 2011, she faced another tragedy when she lost her sister to suicide. Her sister was diagnosed with depression and her family tried to treat her by following superstitious rituals. Their relatives started accusing her sister of being possessed. “There was no history of mental illness in the family, and hence, she was held responsible. She was even kept alone in a separate room.” Sumitra shared. Her sister eventually took her own life when her mental health condition deteriorated.
That incident left her devastated, but she tried to overcome her loss by helping people with mental illnesses across different tribal villages. With the help of Ekjut, she started organizing various support group meetings, meditation, and counseling sessions with caregivers. Regarding her initiative, she consulted with Dr. Sachin Barbde (A community mental health physician, Ekjut) and started accompanying him in spreading mental health awareness among villagers and providing support to those who needed treatment.
According to WHO, community development programs target the major contributors to mental illness in rural India, such as poverty, gender discrimination, and inequality, and such programs often lead to significant gains in people’s mental health and well-being.