“We were not trained in this field, nor did we have any idea about how non-profits functioned. We took the leap and decided that whatever we didn’t know, we would learn; if we needed help, we would ask for it; but doing nothing was no longer an option”, says Samiya.
Here is what she has to say about LonePack and about juggling between a full-time job and doing justice towards a social cause.
Give a brief intro about your NGO?
LonePack is a registered Indian Non-profit organization established in 2016 with the aim of transforming mental health of youth in India. Since then, we have worked to raise awareness about mental health issues and provide a community driven approach to combat the same.
What made you start LonePack? What was your vision when you started it?
The idea for LonePack was conceived in 2015 but we were a little apprehensive about taking the plunge. We were not trained in this field, nor did we have any idea about how non-profits functioned. However, by the time we were graduating from college (2016), we realized that we could not ignore this issue any longer.
The name “LonePack” came about because mental health issues are isolating in nature. People go through difficult situations feeling as if there is no one else in the world who understands what they’re going through, and that there is no one to support them on their journey. At LonePack, we want to build a safe space, a community, to allow people to share their stories, their experiences and fears comfortably. We hope to provide them with the right information and support to the best of our abilities.
Where is LonePack based out of? Why do you think that is the best place for you?
We are registered in Chennai and most of our volunteer base are from the city too. However, one of our founders is based out of Bangalore and we have had a lot of volunteers who have worked remotely with us from all parts of India. Anyone with a good internet connection with the interest and time is welcome to volunteer.
Tell us about your team and how did you meet each other?
Apart from myself, LonePack’s two other founders – Siddhaarth Sudhakaran and Naveen H. were classmates and close friends and met each other during our undergraduate days in Chennai. We have over the years, worked with several wonderful individuals who have contributed immensely to our journey. Apart from the three of us, other key members of our team include Dinesh who manages logistics for our campaigns, Kirthana who handles social media and Srivasupradha who manages content. We have numerous other volunteers and supporters who have helped us immensely through the years
What is the biggest misconception people have about you? Why do they have that? What’s the reality?
Quite a few people believe that we are mental health professionals. However, none of the founding team members are formally educated in mental health. Rather, it’s our passion to make a change that made us start LonePack. As such, we try to make it amply clear that we do not directly offer any counselling services since we strongly believe that mental health professionals are best placed to offer counselling and therapy. However, we do try to facilitate community and peer based support systems, whilst encouraging people to seek professional help should they need it.
What gets you excited about running LonePack?
Working in an area that hosts very unique socio-cultural challenges and yet has enormous potential for change is something that keeps us excited all the time! Additionally, we’d love to leverage our background as Computer Science Engineers to leverage technology and data to create innovative and large scale interventions.
Tell us how a day in your life looks like? Your schedule for a day right from the time you get up till you hit the bed at night.
Well, juggling a full-time job at a major consulting company and running a non profit is a pretty hectic schedule. I usually wake up in the morning, and check my emails, messages and calendar. This allows me to prioritize my to-do list for the day a bit better. I then head to office/client location, and then go about my office work, using my breaks to respond to any critical questions from the LonePack Team. Once I head home, I usually spend some time working on LonePack things, before spending time with friends or just unwinding. The thing I swear by is keeping a to-do list because that way I don’t have to keep worrying about keeping track of the 101 things on my plate, and it helps me a bit more structured. However, tbh, sometimes my to-do list is so long that it seems like an extremely daunting task!
How serious is depression in your view? Is it something people can get past over time? Because they always say “Time heals”
Depression is a rather common mental health disorder and depending on its intensity, it can seriously affect the normal functioning of a person. It definitely is not something that one can just snap out of. Often, people who are depressed may not even have a particular event/ occurrence that causes them to feel the way they do.
How do you think people should distinguish between being sad and being clinically depressed and how does LonePack help a person come forward without feeling ashamed?
Human beings experience emotions. The most common emotions that we experience are happiness, sadness, fear and anger. Amongst these, sadness is a normal human emotion that we all experience in life when we undergo something unpleasant – this could be related to a loss, or a disappointment or the like. It is important to recognize that sadness happens to all people but, it does resolve itself over a period of time.
On the other hand, depression is a complex neurobehavioural disorder characterized by a cluster of symptoms. Persons suffering with depression usually have problems that affect their feelings, behaviors, physical health and overall functioning. Typically people with depression do not spontaneously feel better as in the case with sadness.
And as always, we strongly discourage people from self-diagnosing themselves with depression. It is a serious illness and if you believe you might be showing some symptoms, we recommend that you seek consultation with a mental health professional.
Do you think the stigma around mental health has changed today compared to what it was a few years ago? Has it changed from how it was before celebrities spoke up?
There definitely are encouraging trends. I believe youth at least in urban circles are more willing to talk about mental health. Celebrities like Deepika Padukone coming out have had a great impact in driving the conversation forward. However, there is a long way for us to go still.
Tell us about some of the campaigns and other initiatives taken by LonePack? Any specific interesting experience that you can share?
Our flagship campaign “LonePack Letters”, was started in 2017 with a purposeful aim of encouraging people to be more vocal in their support for mental health issues. People are encouraged to write or draw handwritten letters that would bring a smile to the faces of people reading them. We collect these letters and after vetting them, place them at various public spaces all over the city for unsuspecting people to pick up and read. The envelopes contained a note highlighting the widespread prevalence of mental health issues and how a few words of support from a loved one can go a long way. In our third edition last December, we were able to distribute over 20,000 letters in 3 cities with the help of our partner – “Uber Eats”. Getting all the letters vetted, packed and shipped was a huge challenge and involved a dozen volunteers working with us over two weekends at breakneck speed! It was a great learning experience.
Have you raised funding? If yes, then we would like to know the details. If no then please tell us if you are looking to raise.
We were largely self-funded and up until recently, we had not received any external source of donations or income. We have recently tried to make the non-profit more sustainable by trying to experiment with crowd funding and mental health merchandise. We are also trying to raise funding from corporate donors and other organizations.
We do accept donations, and the link to the same can be found on our website/social media platforms. Please note that all donations do have tax deductions granted under section 80G as well.
What is your future plan of activities for LonePack? Any targets or milestones?
We plan to make LonePack Letters even bigger and better this year! We are also looking to scale and expand the reach of LonePack Buddy, our anonymous email-based peer to peer support system. We are currently developing a “Mental Health 101 Module” with the help of international experts at Teen Mental Health, Canada to educate school children to take care of their emotional and mental well-being in an interactive and engaging manner.
As an organization, we are focusing on building a strong team to scale and sustain the work of the organization in the long term.
Way to go, Team LonePack!
We envision a world where mental health battles are not fought in the shadows any longer.
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