Building community around mental health: The Well Being Project
Close your eyes, and try to imagine your safe, happy place. Do you feel well-rested? Can you sense your heart rate slowing down? Now, imagine traveling to another place to receive an education. Somewhere new, somewhere different. How do you feel? Excited but a little nervous?
That's how Mansi Agarwal felt when she moved to Delhi, India, for university. Mansi had lived her whole life in a small city called Bhopal, ten hours away from Delhi. Bhopal has a population of 2,505,000. Delhi has a population of 32,066,00 - that’s 1,280% more people than Mansi grew up with .
Annually, thousands of students leave their hometowns and travel from across India to Delhi, seeking better education and job prospects. According to the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, between 1998 and 2008, 3.7 million young people migrated between Indian states seeking access to higher education . Moving to a new city is hard enough, let alone for a young person starting a challenging new journey in university.
Moving means relocating, searching for accommodation, living with strangers, and started an educational journey - a stressful process. Going through this process in one of the busiest cities in the world is even more challenging. According to Delhi's The Center of Healing platform, 88% of Indians suffer from anxiety. Mansi isn't the exception - since moving away, she has developed severe anxiety.
In the city, she felt lonely and isolated, which only exacerbated her feelings of worry and anxiety. Even though she wanted to talk to someone, she was terrified of the stigma attached to mental health. But as Mansi struggled silently, she began to notice she was not alone. After connecting with other migrant students, she realized that many battle anxiety and depression.
"Students go through anxiety due to prevailing uncertainty, which scars them for life. They forget the art of living; they forget what being happy feels like”, Mansi told us. She felt an instant connection to her peers. They were all in the same boat, but the taboo surrounding mental health kept them from sharing their stories. Determined to help others heal together, she set out to find a solution.
With the support of Peace First, Mansi started 'The Well-Being Project’. The project provides online training sessions that give students tools to improve their mental health. Students and facilitators discuss self-forgiveness, self-acceptance and the practice of gratitude. They also dive deeper into strategies to deal with anxiety, like breaking up daunting tasks into smaller steps and ways to support friends with mental health problems.
Over 200 people have attended Mansi's sessions. After participating, students feel more confident and can make tough decisions. They understand that failure is inevitable in life and how to approach it. They learn to embrace uncertainty, which will be present in their university years.
Despite her success, Mansi acknowledges that changemaking can be pretty tricky. At first, she struggled to find mental health experts who were willing to join the project and were also phenomenal facilitators. The project's success depended on students feeling safe, so Mansi had to pay special attention to building trust between facilitators and community members. The improvement in the member's confidence is proof that she was successful. Mansi looks forward to hosting more sessions and expanding her community in the coming months.
When asked what advice she would give to fellow changemakers, Mansi stays on-brand with these beautiful words: "Keep believing in the cause. Take feedback from your community members and subject matter experts as a way of continuously improving yourself and your project. Changemaking can be overwhelming, don't forget to take it step by step."
 World Population Review. 2022. https://bit.ly/3N8UCq7
 Chandrasekhar, S. & Sharma, A. 2014. Internal Migration for Education and Employment among Youth in India. https://bit.ly/3kV09EZ
 The Indian Express. December 12, 2020. 74% Indians suffering from stress, 88% from anxiety: Study. https://bit.ly/3ypadOp