Ankush of Sangath – mental health for young people

By Denise Nanni and Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following our interview with Ankush of Sangath, supporting mental health of children and young people in Goa, India. Sangath is a non-governmental, not-for-profit organisation committed to improving health across the life span by empowering existing community resources to provide appropriate physical, psychological and social therapies. Its primary focus areas include child development, adolescent and youth health, and adult health and chronic disease.


 What are the objectives of Sangath?

Sangath endeavours to innovate solutions to improve mental and physical health across the life course. Sangath works to promote the good health – physical, psychological and social – of children, adolescents and families. Our primary focus areas are child development, adolescent and youth health, and mental health.
What are the main social issues in your region of intervention?
We actively work to root out factors that cause mental distress, substance abuse by empowering the community to act as lay counsellors. As part of our SHARE project, we are addressing perinatal depression in order to impact mothers’ physical health, functioning and the health of their babies. The innovative aspect of the SHARE project is the provision of support through lay counsellors who are other mothers in the community. Some of our other projects deal with Autism in children, depression in the elderly, developing intervention targeting common mental disorders in school going adolescents and promoting reproductive and sexual health among adolescents, among others. Sangath now has centres across India, so while the social issues existing and addressed in each area vary quite a bit, we usually aim to improve mental/physical health, provide better support for mental ill health, and address the gap in services available, which then has an impact on social issues. For example, our projects have developed interventions for dependent and harmful drinking (PREMIUM), for autism in children (PASS, PASS+) and for preventing depression in older adults (DIL), provided good quality mental health care at primary healthcare levels (PREMIUM, PRIME), and targeted adolescent health in schools (SHAPE). Some of our projects have directly addressed social issues in their respective regions, e.g. alcohol use (PREMIUM, SAFE), adolescent reproductive and sexual health (SEHER), and improving mental health in areas linked to high suicide rates (VISHRAM). 
What are the main difficulties that people with disabilities have to face and how do you support them? 
People with disabilities face discrimination in our society. Most of our public facilities are not disabled friendly. Disabled people have a tough time supporting themselves without being pitied at. Mental ill health is either hidden and unacknowledged, or seemingly visible and stigmatised. De-stigmatisation, advocacy, accessibility and empowerment are key to the work that Sangath does. For example, using lay health counsellors who are people from the communities we serve, not using medicalised terms, and developing simple interventions that can make a big impact.
How do you identify and select the communities where you intervene?
This tends to depend on the need within the region (e.g. adolescent health, addictions, maternal health), the research questions being asked, and then where one can access the people in need. For Sangath, this usually means going into the local communities (e.g. schools, primary healthcare centres).
Do you cooperate with local authorities and institutions? If yes, how?
Yes, many of our partnerships are with the local Directorate of Health Services, the Directorate of Education, the Directorate of Women and Child Development, etc. Sangath does not aim to replace the work that the Government is doing to improve healthcare in India, but to contribute evidence and examples towards building better systems for its population.