Published: 04th March 2021
How these young mental health workers are helping Chennai's government school kids get the help they need to keep depression, anger at bay
Firefly Mental Health is a community support group started in 2019 by two mental health workers V Priyanka and Shriya Srivatsan and they're doing a great job with some severely affected children
If you need mental health help, you'd probably Google it and find a good therapist. What would kids studying in government schools do? That's a question that haunted two mental health workers from Chennai. The answer to that was Firefly Mental Health - a community support group started in 2019 by V Priyanka and Shriya Srivatsan.
The founders of Firefly Mental Health - V Priyanka and Shriya Srivatsan
The duo routinely visits government schools to deliver mental health modules – (workshops, activities and games to develop their personality) - for them for free. “We come across children with body-image issues, anger management issues, low self-esteem, anxiety and unhealthy coping mechanisms for all of it. This requires therapy. While we are professionally trained to provide it for them, we require more therapists to give them individual attention. Further, we need to help those children even beyond therapy through play sessions and stories that are more impactful in bringing about change,” says the duo.
Firefly's work with the government school children to build emotional intelligence
What makes it very impactful is the weight of their personal experience. Priyanka experienced clinical depression and Shriya was brought up in a household where they had to deal with a family member going through the same thing. In both cases, what helped them was the kindness of strangers. “When people we barely knew connected with us to help us realise that we’re not alone. India is built on that sense of oneness, which is the interdependent pillar of support. Based on this, we started Firefly," says the duo.
When asked about their purpose in starting a mental health community, they say, “We started Firefly with the aim of strengthening awareness and our sense of community to ensure mental health issues are tackled through collective effort in our society, where the wellbeing of every individual is everybody’s business and concern.”
That's not all of it. What would it feel like to have conversations under the moonlight about anything under the sun? That's what their event Out of the Jar is all about. “Having found support in the kindness of strangers, we wanted others to experience a sense of community that got us through our tough times. Tapping into the vulnerability of a dimly-lit rooftop, we sit in a circle to openly talk about and exchange perspectives on specific topics like friendships and fallouts, relationships and breakups, career and uncertainty, relationship with our parents and so on. In these conversations, we come to learn the various struggles that others have faced and how we’re not alone. We have witnessed a beautiful exchange of perspectives and empathy, where people walked out feeling heard, changed and even understood,” they add.
Firefly's Moonlight talk on career
The pandemic revealed the importance of mental health to people and the phones at Firefly did not stop buzzing. “They were about loneliness, anxiety and fear of job loss or even morbidity that the pandemic brought in. Initially, we were offering free counselling services to anyone in need, but it became overwhelming as we found it difficult to draw boundaries to take care of ourselves as well. Thus, we started conducting workshops that explained anxiety, depression, distress and resilience so each individual is equipped to help themselves. Our WhatsApp support group was buzzing with messages of people who wanted someone to talk to, which is why we had weekly check-in phone calls, that people said helped them get through the pandemic,” says the duo about how they have conducted events during the pandemic.