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This World Mental Health Day we bring to you ‘The Alternative Story’, an innovative team that helps people prioritise their mental health, and get help in an affordable manner.
What is happening in the world today? It has indeed become a ‘global village.’ With major developments in electronic media, improved infrastructure, transport, widespread trade and commerce, no country is far off or no place is too remote.
So, what do people do now? They migrate! From towns to cities and from cities to other parts of the world, all in search of better education and career opportunities. As a result, being cut off from a lifestyle that they were used to, without safety nets, and unable to access necessary ‘help,’ the risk of mental ill health is rising, says Paras Sharma, Counseling Psychotherapist and Head of The Alternative Story.
The Alternative Story is an organisation with expert counselling therapists providing affordable and accessible counseling services. They provide professional services for those who need support with mental health, especially to the socioeconomically marginalised individuals who approach them. Having their base in the cities of Bangalore and Mumbai, The Alternative Story aims to change the narrative of counselling and mental health.
Talking about why he started The Alternative Story, Paras Sharma told Women’s Web that mainstream mental health offers mostly diagnosis and treatment alone. But the need of the hour is the consideration of the psychosocial, cultural and political forces that shape our contexts and realities. Hence he began The Alternative Story, a fresh and alternative voice in the mental healthcare space that is sensitive to these other factors.
“An ‘alternative story’ is what is considered as the exception to a ‘problem story’ which is comprised of internalised sociocultural discourses that tie our self-worth to meeting cultural or productive expectations,” says Paras. They are providing tech-enabled, socio-politically and ethically informed therapy in multiple languages.
Their services include face-to-face counseling, telephone counseling, email-based counseling, video counseling, chat counseling, and pay-what-you-want. The most used medium is the telephone. Also, people often prefer online mediums because they can access therapy from the comfort of their homes. It is also cost effective and would reduce the hassle of traveling to the therapist.
Mental health care is often expensive. Each session cost would range from Rs.1000 to 1500, which is not always affordable to an average Indian. To tackle this problem, The Alternative Story has a unique service – ‘pay-what-you-want.’ With this people can pay for the sessions as much as they want and can afford anything above the base price of rupees 199. Paras says, “We dedicate around a third of our slots each month for #PayWhatYouWant sessions.” Along with him Naina Shahri, Associate Counselling psychologist, and Ahla Matra, Associate Clinical Psychologist are part of The Alternative Story team.
Initially, people would reach out to The Alternative Story via social media. Now they receive queries through telephone, email, and word of mouth. People can even request a callback from their website. Later they are connected to a particular counselor depending on their location and preference of medium. People can also schedule a session for themselves directly through their website or via phone calls.
Our society is filled with age-old stigmas related to mental health that cut across gender, caste, creed, and class. But now more and more people, especially the ones in the 21 – 40 age group are accessing counseling services and seeking help. They are not shy to discuss any areas they need help in, be it their relationship issues, work-life concerns, self-image issues or career concerns, etc.
Around 60% of their clientele right now are women. They mostly seek help for issues like Thyroid Disorders, PCOS, Endometriosis and to deal with the mental health impact of gynecological or endocrinological issues. Many women clients are also survivors of ongoing or past trauma and need therapy to process and overcome the same.
To benefit such people, The Alternative Story team is trauma-informed, intersectional, survivor-centric, LGBTQIA+ affirmative, and kink-aware. Talking about mental health professionals’ awareness regarding challenges faced by people who are considered not ‘normal’ by the Indian society, Paras says, “People on social media were enquiring about queer-friendly, sex-positive, disabled-friendly therapists. There is a need for more inclusive, non-pathologizing and rights-informed therapy models. It is up to the mental health professionals now to step up to the needs of the marginalized.”
Finally, sharing his thoughts on World Mental Health Day, Paras says, “As always, there is no health without mental health. We hope that days like World Mental Health Day, and platforms such as Women’s Web, enable more people to think about and prioritize their mental health, and seek the care they need.”
Yes indeed. We all hope and wish for the same, don’t we?
Image Source – The Alternative Story
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