Way to go. Pragya Chawla, third from left, with other Soul Knit members Image Credit: Supplied

ABU DHABI: An Indian teen who overcame depression has launched a support group called Soul Knit with the help of her friends to create awareness about mental illness and make mental health services readily accessible.

As part of the initiative, the Abu Dhabi-based teen group ropes in experts to reach out to people with mental illnesses by conducting free group therapy and counselling sessions every fortnight.

“As someone who has battled depression, I know why a support group is so critically important,” said Pragya Chawla, founder, Soul Knit.

“Initially, we used to reach out to other schoolmates suffering from depression and anxiety disorders, but now that we have graduated out of school, we want to extend our services to anybody suffering from mental illness,” she said.

“The stigma attached to mental illness and the exorbitant treatment costs often stop people from seeking help. So we decided to set up a support group where people can discuss their problems without being uncomfortable and seek remedial measures,” said Soul Knit’s co-founder Hensley D’Souza.

Pragya said they explored various therapeutic activities to help mental illness patients cope with stress, and speed up the recovery process. “Once we even prepared a ‘bell jar’ (based on Sylvia Plath’s melancholic poems) where participants were encouraged to write anything they wanted to express their feelings. The exercise turned out to be very therapeutic,” recalled Pragya.

Anant Krishnan, who attended one of Soul Knit’s sessions, said his initial scepticism has been replaced with respectful admiration. “I attended just one session, but it was enough for me to conclude that people with mental disorders can reap immense benefit from this initiative,” he said.

“Soul Knit is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional psychological advice. We simply provide a stigma-free alternative of caring listeners and a platform to create awareness,” said Pragya.

Next month, Pragya will be joining Stanford University in the US to do her double major in Computer Science and International Relations. She said she hopes to collate best practices from there and adopt them for Soul Knit workshops.

The writer is an Abu Dhabi-based freelancer