Tackling the mental health crisis in South Asia

May 2022

Alexandra is a proud sponsor of the UK's most prestigious Royal College of Nursing Awards and is always keen to connect with the award winners and hear about their stories. We are delighted to hear from João Marçal-Grilo, winner of Mental Health Nursing Award in 2021. João won the award due to founding ‘Jaya Mental Health’ a UK charity that works to improve mental health care in South Asia by training and investing in Nurses and other healthcare workers.

‘Just over 6 months ago, I had the honour of receiving the Royal College of Nursing Mental Health Nursing Award 2021. Last year’s unforgettable event could not have happened without the support of organisations like Alexandra. Nurses have been invisible and undervalued for far too long. Occasions like the RCN Awards not only recognise the most impressive nursing-led projects of recent years, but also bring much needed visibility to the nursing profession both at home and overseas.

I received the award for having founded Jaya Mental Health (charity number 1159008), a UK-charity dedicated to improving the lives of people affected by mental health problems in low-income countries. I was immensely thankful for this recognition, which I welcomed on behalf of everyone at team Jaya – a small, but extraordinary group of nurses who work relentlessly to bring better health care to people affected by mental health problems. Without them, this award would make no sense.

João Marçal-Grilo, founder of Jaya Mental HealthJoão Marçal-Grilo, founder of Jaya Mental Health

João Marçal-Grilo, founder of Jaya Mental Health

I received the award for having founded Jaya Mental Health (charity number 1159008), a UK-charity dedicated to improving the lives of people affected by mental health problems in low-income countries. I was immensely thankful for this recognition, which I welcomed on behalf of everyone at team Jaya – a small, but extraordinary group of nurses who work relentlessly to bring better health care to people affected by mental health problems. Without them, this award would make no sense.

Most of our activities take place in South Asia. We have a team of health professionals based in Kathmandu, Nepal, dedicated to bringing mental health care to some of the region’s most remote and impoverished communities.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among women of working age in rural Nepal, however there is only a handful of trained mental health professionals available in this country of over 30 million people. Our solution is to train local nurses, healthcare workers and volunteers in  basic but life-saving mental health care skills, so that everyone, no matter where in Nepal, has access to mental health support.

 

Images above: one of Jaya Mental Health’s many monthly mental health clinics, Ilam, Eastern Nepal. Credit: Jaya Mental Health

So, what have I been up to since winning the award last year?

In a few words: I haven’t stopped since!

COVID-19 had a huge impact on mental health care provision in South Asia. Travel restrictions, high rates of infections and related deaths, and critical shortages of health professionals made it close to impossible for us to run our monthly community outreach mental health clinics. But with a lot of perseverance and persistence, we were able to ensure people affected by mental illness continued receiving the care and support they desperately needed.

Since January 2022 and together with my colleagues in Kathmandu, I’ve been developing new child mental health training materials for newly appointed School Nurses working in Nepal; as well as moderating debates and webinars on the role of nurses and midwives in crisis situations (organised by the Nursing Now Challenge); and liaising with new potential partners in Pakistan and Sri Lanka with a view of extending our training programmes to nurses working in these countries.

Images above: training local nurses and community workers in mental health care skills is at the heart of what we do. Credit: Jaya Mental Health

One of our most exciting new projects is to start a new mental health clinic in Upper Mustang, one of the Himalayas’ most isolated regions. With a population of 15,000 and only one hospital run by 4 health professionals, none of whom have mental health training or knowledge, we have our work cut out for us. A challenge, but one we take up with open arms!

The tasks ahead of us are endless. But so is our motivation to keep going. Jaya’s work is a small drop in a vast ocean of need. Much needs to be done to overcome the stigma surrounding mental illness and to build robust healthcare workforces able to respond to the challenges experienced by those affected by mental illness. Nevertheless, we believe that equipping nurses with the right tools and building their confidence as leaders is a step in the right direction to transform mental healthcare provision across the world.

I thank everyone at Alexandra for not only creating beautiful and comfortable healthcare wear that make us proud of who we are and what we do, but also for your support in raising the profile of our profession.

Images above: Jaya’s mission is to build confident, skilful nursing leaders where they are most needed. Credit: Jaya Mental Health

You can find out more about Jaya and what we do by visiting www.jayamentalhealth.org.uk Do not hesitate to get in touch - you can reach me on joao@jayamentalhealth.org.uk  or write to any other member of the team via hello@jayamentalhealth.org.uk

I look forward to keeping you posted on our progress!

João