This PG programme from IMHS, Kanchipuram, aims to bridge the gap between the growing demand forand the lack of mental health professionals.

“There is a lack of mental health care professionals in India,” states Nalini Rao, Dean, Institute of Mental Health, Social Sciences and Transdisciplinary Research. The institute functions from the Kovalam centre of The Banyan, Kovalam Village, Kanchipuram.

Started in June, this year, the founding of IMHST has been a step towards improving the mental health care scenario in the country and providing more professionals and experts in this sector. This is a collaborative effort between The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health (BALM), Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, and the Vrije University, Amsterdam.

To bridge the gap between the growing demand and the lack of mental health professionals, the institute offers an MA in Social Work in Mental Health. For this, IMHST follows TISS’s curriculum. The entrance exam, selection of candidates, interviews, the academic calendar, examinations, placements—everything complies with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences’ methods. Twenty seats are mandated for the course and the first batch of the institute has 15 students.

Unique opportunity

The MA course offers 79 credits spread over two years (four semesters) containing both theory and practical work (field work). While the theory classes span four days, the remaining two days are invested in field work. The course offers diverse theoretical subjects and experts are brought in to give the students a different perspective. The field work places the students in grassroot-level organisations in and around Kovalam to provide them training and experience. “The aim of field work is to connect the micro and the macro,” explains Nalini Rao. “It’s all about practising the principles they learn and relating theory to practice.”

The students of the institute have access to the library, which contains journals, documents and other necessary study materials. They can also access the TISS portal for further research.

IMHST has international ties with Vrije University, Amsterdam. “Our ties with Vrije University will bring in a global dimension to the course,” says Nalini Rao. “The university will depute some of their experts to teach our students. We have a research collaboration with them as well, which would greatly benefit the students.”

Quizzed about the unique aspect of the institute, Nalini Rao points out, “Just like a hospital and a medical college, here we have an NGO that caters to mental health care and an institute which teaches how to go about it, how to work with such people.” Salih, the project manager for Kovalam Rural Mental Health Programme, elaborates, “The Banyan now has its own students where they are offered a unique opportunity to learn, observe, experience and work. As we hardly have any experts in this field, we aim to create more leaders in the community.”

Being a less-chosen field of science, Nalini Rao emphasises that it is a career-oriented course. There is no dearth of career opportunities in this field as there are a wide range of jobs available. Both governmental and non-governmental agencies ask for well-trained professionals in the mental health sector. Research opportunities are also aplenty for interested students.

IMHST plans to offer MA Social Work in Counselling and MA Social Work in Community Organisation and Development Practices in the coming academic years. Short-term and certificate courses are also on the cards for this institute which aims to produce quality social workers.

Student speak

The students at the institute all come from different parts of the country and have settled down well. Abhijeet from Goa says that he is able to cope with the challenging course with the help of his classmates and the faculty. “The lecturers have a way of making the classes interesting and interactive. The field work, especially, is an enriching experience.”

Kumkum from Uttarakhand echoes Abhijeet’s opinion. “The curriculum is exactly what I expected. It is vigorous and challenging and we get hands-on experience on what we learn,” she says. “We also have guest lectures which are of significant help to us.”

Pallavi, who wants to become an art therapist, feels that this course will go a long way in helping her achieve her dreams. “The quality of teaching is excellent. I really like the fact that our curriculum practises what we learn in the form of field work. I have become more empathetic, adaptable and a better human being ,” she says.