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People Are Realising The Importance Of Mental Wellness: Neerja Birla, Founder, Mpower

I think different people, different fields, face different stressors and the common one is about multitasking because we are trying to wear so many hats

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Neerja Birla, Founder and Chairperson of Mpower, was recently felicitated by Women Economic Forum (WEF) for being Women of the decade in Community Mental Healthcare.

Mpower is a centre and movement that aims to affect a positive change in the attitudes towards mental health, alleviate stigma, and provide quality care to individuals from all walks of life.

Birla reaches out through the plethora of initiatives and collaborations that she does, and empowers people to lead fulfilling and enriched lives. She herself has had a brush with post-partum depression and believes that creating awareness around health issues can help in winning half the battle of mental health issues.

In a conversation with BW Businessworld, she shared insights into the work being done at Mpower, her views on mental health and the future of mental wellness.

Mpower creates awareness around mental health issues and eradicates the stigma around it, please elaborate on the work you are doing?

Mpower is the mental health centre which we started, which is actually a mental health movement. We are running it in under three verticals, one is creating awareness about mental health because it’s very important to try and alleviate the stigma around mental health. It’s a taboo to talk about it, though it’s getting better. 

The second vertical is about actually providing services about it because once you have created awareness, “then what?”

It’s important to provide psychological as well as the psychiatric services about it which will help the individual to actually get better and able to lead productive and meaningful life.

And the third vertical is the outreach program. We run workshops and try to reach various schools, colleges, and corporates and try to spread this message to educate the people about mental health. 

What propelled you to do what you are doing?

Two things. One I have been in the field of education since about 10 years now. And second, I have three kids, right from 24 to 14. So I have really seen a lot of mental health issues that have cropped up in school, amongst children amongst adoloscents.

Are there any initiatives which you are running right now?

The 3 verticals of Mpower ofcourse are ongoing with a number of other initiatives.

The next one that is coming up is “Happy Place” which is a collaboration between Mpower, psychologists, therapists and the school children at the school they run at the academy.

The school children are putting this event together where the theme is mental health and we are trying to get the message across using various platforms like photography, street plays, music, dance, singing. There are different competitions, so the kids are able to express themselves and talk about mental health in sort of more creative manner, sort of fun manner. The idea is to normalise it and really reduce the stigma about it.

What are the biggest stressors which people face according to you?

I think different people, different fields, face different stressors and the common one is about multitasking because we are trying to wear so many hats.

At the moment, I am playing so many roles, wearing different hats at the same time and I find striking that balance, trying to be the perfect mum, trying to be the supermom, trying to be superwoman at work, trying to juggle so many things at the same time. I think it really kind of takes the toll and then you are trying to be best at everything, you don’t realise you can’t be best at everything and that’s a learning we all go through. So just kind of coordinate and collaborate with so many different roles, is the most stressful.

Pointing towards technology -  What do you feel about device, disease, and disconnection today.

I think devices and technology like everything else has it’s pros and cons. We have to really balance it out. We need to use it to suit us. We need to become their masters and not a slave to it, we have to balance it out. Honestly none of us can do without it and life has become much simpler with technology because you are so much better connected and therefore you can use it to your advantage. But obviously you can’t let it rule your life, so you got to have rules to your own self, you need to strike your own balance to it. I think that’s the key.

What are your mindfulness practices?

I think working out for me is mindfulness actually, because when you are working out, you are in it. I think mindfulness is basically being in the moment, in the here and now knowing that it’s the only thing that you are doing. 

I meditate in the morning and play sports and I read a lot. I travel, because for me travelling also is mindfulness because when I am travelling I am just away from everything.

I can’t just take three days off and say that I am going to only meditate. Mindfulness is a way of life.

Different things work for different people I got to be in it, I got to do it as a part of my life which is what I try to do.

What according to you is the future of mental wellness?

I think the time has come, because honestly 3 years back when we started out it was a blank slate, we just delved into it, there was nothing about mental health, people were not willing to talk about it. 

I already am seeing a change in the last 3 years people are talking about it, fortunately for us media are talking about it, media has a great power as you know, there are a lot of organisations talking about it, individuals are talking about it, so there is a lot of stuff happening out there and people are realising the importance of mental wellness. So I think the only way is up, more and more people are going to talk about it more and more people are aware of it, so we can, there is just positivity about it. We are really on a good space and good time to be able to make that change. I do believe it’s a change in a mindset, the cultural shift that we are trying to do it and I do think it will probably bring a generation to bring that change so I really think if we reach out to the youth which we at empower are trying to educate them, they are the ones who can bring that change, they change their mindset and in turn their children will benefit. So I really do think it will take a generation about the change but we will do it.

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