Monday, September 18, 2017

Cafe Counsel

Lakshmi Sreenivasan is the founder of Cafe Counsel.  Café Counsel is an on-demand mental and emotional well-being service provider where you matter the most. Comprising a team of dedicated experts committed to making Mental and Emotional wellbeing easily available, Café Counsel believes in being friendly, empathetic, and sensitive in their therapeutic approach yet delivering assured positive results. Here is Lakshmi's story.

Could you share your story to the extent that you are comfortable sharing? Your childhood, growing years, education and any information that is relevant to what you do today.  

I come from a dysfunctional family, where my mother and father were mostly seen fighting, hurling verbal abuses at each other. And all 3 sisters did not have much of an option but to stay put and scared, praying that the verbal abuse doesn’t get into violent episode as the probabilities of that were pretty high. But it wasn’t always like that until class 6. Initially I did not understand the reason for the fights and chaos, but then I realized my father had malicious intentions towards my elder sister. My elder sister and me were very close and shared a great bonding. But we couldn’t share this with anyone; the thought of returning home after school was full of angst and fear. It started getting worse over the years. When I was in class 10 and my sister in class 12, my mother decided to put a stop to it. One day after exams we all left for Chennai to my grandmother’s house.

Life was still better, but with the social pressure my grandmother wanted all of us to get married as early as possible. I got married at the age of 19, I was in my first year. I had to fight to continue my studies after 12th std. The only thing which could convince was 4 days of fast with no food and almost a threaten to runaway from home if not allowed to study further J. But it worked. I had to settle for distance education from University of Madras.

I did my BCOM from University of Madras. I had my Child when I was in second year of my graduation. My husband, In-laws, My maternal uncles and grandmother have been greatly supportive through out.

I moved to Mumbai I 2003, completed my PGDBM in Marketing from ICFAI, a distance learning, I have also done my Post Graduation in Psychology from IGNOU.

How did Cafe Counsel come about? 

Sometimes we stumble upon the purpose of our lives in the most dreadful and painful situations. I stumbled upon my life purpose with the passing away of my sister. She lost her life at an early age. She was just 39, she battled cancer for 8 years and then succumb to short bowel syndrome caused due to cancer on 3rd of June 2016. The physical altercations and chaos during our childhood had affected my sister personality very negatively, she grew emotionally sensitive and fearful.
I learnt during her illness that more than her excruciating physical problem what affected her more was a lack of emotional support, someone who could give her an empathetic ear and caring sensitivity. Café counsel was born out of this agonizing situation.

There is so much strength and resilience lacking in the way mental health is addressed around us. What are some of the issues you've identified in the way mental health is handled? How can it be addressed?

More than the lack of strength and resilience, I think what we lack is empathy, compassion most importantly lack of awareness about mental health. I see in India, culturally we have socially stigmatised Mental health hugely. We are comfortable talking about physical issues and many a times physical illness is glorified too, but mental health has never been considered important. The mere mention of counselling is met with raised eyebrows and the individual is then labeled MAD, Pagal hai, Psycho etc. But that’s not true. Every individual goes through some psychological/mental issues atleast once in their lifetime, there is empirical data available. And because its so stigmatised, people donot come out of there closets and suffer for years together until its too late and become dysfunctional. One in every 5 people need mental health care. An Assocham study released last year revealed that 42.5 percent of employees suffer from depression. The numbers are rising at an alarming rate. I realized in my research before starting Café Counsel, that we needed something to combat Social Stigma and simultaneously create adequate awareness. As the numbers are huge, we has to find a solution which can cater to mass as well it feasible. So we created an online platform to reach out to as many and be easily accessible. Besides, with technology and online solution we offer total anonymity to users, to eliminate the social stigmatisation

What are some of the challenges you see one encountering in the approach to addressing mental health?
There are multiple and huge challenges with respect Mental health. Let me share some data. The Indian government estimates that 6-7% of the population suffer from major to minor mental health issues. That’s approximately 70 million Indians. This number is increasing every year. The Indian government estimates that 6-7% of the population suffer from major to minor mental health issues. That’s approximately 70 million Indians. This number is increasing every year. India accounts for more suicides than any other country in the world. In fact, India accounts for one third of all total global suicides. Additionally, despite the huge number of people who require mental health attention, India only has 3,500 trained psychiatrists and even fewer psychologists.

What inspires you to do the work you do?
I have been practicing Pyschotherapy since 2008. Most of my cases are refered by someone or previous clients. I see that people need someone to listen too, there is too much stress, struggle, competition and many things which is making it all the more difficult to live happy and peaceful. I see Café counsel where we are available to listen and understand wholly, is one of things, which is far more fulfilling and meaningful. It allows you to empathise and perceive other persons microcosm the way they see. And when one is able to make a difference in others life, empower them to lead a far more happier life, it just keeps you going, It inspires you to put as much effort and hardwork.

I see today most social issues are because people do not want to share resources, times, money, food, knowledge etc. There’s enough and plenty for everyone, the problem here is our narrow mindset. And therefore the social problems. I think I realized and accepted, one cannot be on both sides of the fence; you can either be on the problem side or the solution side. I chose the Solution. Ultimately the choice is ours!

How can an individual be a good ally and support a person with a mental health issue? 

Firstly, empathy. It is important to support and accept the individual going through mental/psychological issues completely. Environment and people around play a tremendous role in healing mental health issues. Secondly not judging and labeling. Everyone goes through some low period In their lives, all they need it time and appropriate aid. Thirdly, mental health is a genuine problem, accept it and encourage people to seek professional help. There is tons of information available today to understand various issues, psycho-education is very important. Lastly, for people who are suffering from any kind of psychological issues, please SPEAK UP, and seek HELP. There's no shame, harm in it. Asking for help is a sign of Courage.