Having been raised in the small town of Bokaro in Jharkhand, India, mental health always came last in the priorities of daily life in my society. Not to mention the stigma around it! For the longest time, I didn’t even know if there was a term for mental health and care. But I did know something wasn’t OK when my father frequently scheduled appointments with a psychiatrist. He was battling clinical depression.
I would see him quiet. I would see him holding me with a newfound hope. I would see him cry to himself, and I would see him go to sleep alone. It doesn’t take a tough guess to predict that this led to fewer friends in his large circle of well-wishers, considering the stigma around the depression a couple decades ago. A small town in a developing country wasn’t much of a place for someone struggling with his mental health. Fortunately, those sessions with the psychiatrist worked, and my father overcame his mental-health crisis.
Growing up, I had my own issues seeing the leading man in my life struggling with his own share of stress. But I didn’t know much about mental stress until I heard of a classmate who attempted suicide. I wasn’t sure what would cause a 12-year-old to grab a knife and cut herself where it hurt the most. She was saved, but what followed was a struggle of a lifetime to resume a regular life.
Back then, I would also speak a lot on topics I knew about, so I could inspire others. Being a star student had its own perks in my now permanently closed school. I began taking motivational sessions for people I knew who needed support; I told them that I was there for them if they needed me. I was there for people who needed a friend, but it wasn’t exactly a solution I could offer collectively for everyone like my father.
Amidst all the progress I made, I had some difficulties in my higher secondary owing to multiple issues I was facing back home. Being someone who had been there for others, it was difficult for me to understand how I not explain what I felt deep inside. For a brief period of time, I felt numb. I felt nothing at all. My peers didn’t know about this, but they simply considered me a failure, since I’d been a good student whose grades had progressively fallen. It was a phase of failures and mental stress that nobody understood or cared about. But I was strong enough to overcome it.
When I graduated out of my higher secondary, I began taking sessions for anyone who was going through mental stress or depression. There were numerous cases where someone attempted to take their own life. I made it a point to talk them out of their mental isolation, to make them feel comfortable and strong, to be there for them. It wasn’t an easy journey. It required me to be neutral when listening to their stories, to maintain my own mental wellness. I was soon flooded with so much mail, and my capability to handle all of their issues soon became limited due to time and funding restrictions. I tried to reply to most of the emails, and to organize the sessions in groups or privately. I wanted to refer them to a more professional network, since I had started these counseling sessions informally. As I began searching, I found no organizations that were professionally handling depression in my area. Even if some did in another state, they were too expensive for the young students I counseled. It was impossible to refer them to those sites without breaking their pockets. And so began the foundation of my little mental health support network, HopesInTheBox.
When I kickstarted this venture, I started planning for it more professionally. I began reading about mental health and techniques to help people with self-improvement. I occasionally took life coaching classes for people who had newly recovered from depression. In the course of three years, the organization has now turned into a popular portal for teenagers and young people. I occasionally offer sessions for the elderly, as well.
HopesInTheBox receives hundreds of anonymous emails today (you can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org), and schedules counseling slots via email, Google Hangouts, and Telegram. The cost of sessions is free for any student who is unable to afford these sessions. The organization solely functions on donations and people who can afford a session. To help people with their post-recovery period, we follow up with them and offer them life coaching sessions for productive self-improvement.
Now, I wouldn’t say that my sessions bring immediate changes or solve everyone’s individual problems. But what I achieved was restoring hope and stability, which they needed at the moment and thereon. I have always believed that people are capable enough to tackle their problems. They just need to realize that they are empowered—mentally!
It was an amazing journey toward realizing HopesInTheBox and getting it to its current form. And it’s a blessing to be able to help so many people in a town that stigmatized my father’s mental health so long ago.
As a founder of a mental health support network, Sonam Bala spends most of her time offering sessions to people with mental-health issues. Her passion has now helped this little community to grow over a thousand functional members who take inspiration from her daily blogs. She also works as a freelance content developer when not happily hanging out with close friends and family.