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While people around the world may speak different languages and have cultures that are vastly different, there is one thing that affects every community: mental illness and the impact it has on individuals and families.
Bringing expertise internationally through a thoughtful approach that includes public and professional education, McLean is working to enhance global knowledge of brain health and encouraging compassion and understanding for individuals living with psychiatric conditions.
Earlier this year, at the invitation of an Indian-based non-government organization and the government-run Nehru Science Centre (NSC), McLean Hospital began critical work in India—both in educating professionals and in engaging the public in active learning and dialogue about mental illness.
“The rate of depression in India makes it widely recognized as the most depressed country in the world. However, due to stigma, a general lack of awareness about mental health, and limited access to care, fewer than 15% of people seek professional help,” explained Scott J. O’Brien, director of McLean’s newly launched public education initiative. “The work that we are doing in India is enhancing the understanding of best treatment practices among mental health clinicians while exposing the public to basic mental health information.”
Scott L. Rauch, MD, president and psychiatrist in chief for McLean, set the tone for the hospital’s engagement in India, which included a two-day professional conference featuring three McLean clinicians discussing innovative advancement in mental health care.
“McLean has made a global commitment to build collaborations with local organizations that will allow us to work together—in true partnerships—to improve the lives of individuals and families who live with psychiatric illness,” said Rauch. “We look forward to building deep and enduring relationships throughout India as we explore ways in which McLean can be a partner in enhancing mental health care, training, and professional and public education.”
Thanks to a partnership with the Dr. N.S. Vahia Foundation and the NSC, McLean’s Office of Public Affairs, which is spearheading public education domestically and abroad, developed “Exploring Brain and Mental Health,” an interactive museum exhibit combining information about the brain and mental health with compelling stories of people living with mental illness. The multipart exhibit also allowed visitors to hold a human brain while learning from McLean neuroscientist Stephanie A. Maddox, PhD, and McLean-trained volunteers about how the brain functions and the critical role it plays in mental and physical health.
Among the first visitors to the exhibit were cricket legend Shane Warne; Praveen Pardeshi, additional chief secretary to the chief minister of Maharashtra; and Ranjit Barthakur, executive chairman of the Rajasthan Royals cricket team.
During a press conference held to inaugurate the McLean exhibit, Warne encouraged greater understanding of mental illness and implored people to seek treatment.
“I am deeply touched to be part of such a noble initiative. It’s very important that people start taking mental wellness into consideration,” said Warne. “Mental health is a very serious issue, but all of us go through stuff. I encourage everyone not to hide what you are going through, but to express your feelings and speak up. Don’t be afraid.”
According to Adriana Bobinchock, senior director of public affairs and director of McLean’s public education initiative, more than 3,500 people attended the McLean exhibit over seven days, including thousands of schoolchildren.
“We educated 2,500 students—some of whom traveled up to five hours each way to visit us. The level of engagement and interest was remarkably high, giving us a great insight into the need and desire for this kind of information,” said Bobinchock. “We were able to deliver high-quality information in a culturally sensitive manner that will have a lasting impact on those students.”
Vihang Vahia, MD, founder and president of the Vahia Foundation, was instrumental in ensuring children from all socioeconomic backgrounds had an opportunity to visit the museum and learn about mental health.
“It is critical that we engage children in conversations about these disorders at an early age so that they are educated and aware,” said Vahia. “Through greater education, we believe that as these children get older, they will also have greater compassion for themselves and for others with mental illness.”
McLean’s new public education initiative is made possible thanks to the generous support of donors.