Altair Guimarães

Counselors on Motor Bikes Fight Depression in Goa

Prescribing 15 minutes of television a day may not be the most orthodox cure for depression. However, for Vrunda, a recent widow in Goa, India, who endured months of panic attacks, lack of sleep, and loss of appetite, it was a life-saver.

"At first I didn't even have the desire to turn it on," she explains, but after a few weeks of regular sessions she became interested in programs, and eventually, became interested in her own life again.

Her counselor, Subhash Pednekar, was working at a call center when he saw an ad seeking high school graduates interested in becoming mental health counselors. He was one of 40 applicants chosen to take part in the program. Then, he was one of 12 selected to work as counselora in an innovative project using non-professionals to treat patients with depression.

According to a 2011 study by the World Health Organization (WHO), 36 percent of India's population has reported a major depressive episode, making it the country with the highest rate of depression in the world. Symptoms include loss of interest, insomnia, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, and suicidal thoughts. Despite the severity of the problem, India has only 3,500 trained psychiatrists—one for every 200,000-300,000 people.

Dr. Vikram Patel, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, decided to address this treatment gap by co-founding Sangath—a Goa-based NGO that trains anyone with a high-school degree to recognize symptoms of depression and administer counseling treatment. Counselors operate out of a local health clinic. Patients are assigned to mental health workers who screen them for depression and provide two months of home-based counseling.

Sangath is part of a global movement toward community mental healthcare as an answer to the developing world's treatment gap. With depression on track to be the second leading cause of disability worldwide by 2020, interest and investment in such programs is increasing.

Patel believes that developed world practitioners could take lessons from such programmes as well.

This short film introduces the Sangath approach through the experiences of Vrunda and her counselor, Subhash.


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