AN INTERVIEW WITH FOUNDER POONAM RAHMAN.
The mission of Virtue Mental - to provide free mental health services to underprivileged communities - has never seemed more important than it does today. Can you share how this organization came to be? Why or how did you decide to start it?
Ever since I was ten years old, I always had the dream of starting my very own nonprofit. Philanthropy, community service, and helping people in any way possible was always a priority in life.
I decided to launch Virtue Mental in the midst of the global pandemic because I [realized] there are countless individuals all around the world who are struggling with their mental health, and do not have the appropriate resources to seek help due to financial and personal [barriers].
Throughout my life as a South Asian, mental health was always brushed under the rug in my community. If you spoke about having a mental health condition, you would be shunned and considered to be mentally unstable. [So] my aim is to not only provide free mental health resources to underprivileged communities, but to also eradicate the stigma of mental health in my own community and other minority communities.
My colleague, Samiha, and I [initially] spent almost 8-15 hours a day working toward establishing Virtue Mental. At times, we would even watch the sun rise because we would be up working toward creating a successful nonprofit. In July 2020, Samiha and I launched a virtual internship program where students can participate in different activities to advance the mission of Virtue Mental. These activities include creating and facilitating support groups, creating social media content, and much more! Fast forward to May 2021, we have become an international nonprofit organization serving clients in Canada, India, Italy, and Japan. We've established five support groups, had 100 interns in total during our spring and summer internship cohort, and collaborated with local and global NGOs.
What has been the biggest challenge providing free mental health services during a pandemic? While many mental health struggles may stem from the decrease in social interaction, has the shift to a virtual world actually helped your efforts in any way?
The biggest challenge in working toward fulfilling our mission is encouraging people to seek help and to utilize our free resources. Even though all of our services are virtual, people still shy away from attending our support groups and workshops. This is a trend that we have been noticing recently, but the team and I are working diligently to brainstorm more efficient ways to encourage people to utilize and take advantage of the free resources that Virtue Mental offers.
You mentioned the underprivileged communities that you serve also include those who have recently immigrated to the United States. How do you find the individuals you're helping? Or how do they find you?
Virtue Mental relies heavily on collaborations and we are able to operate our support groups through the help of our partners. Recently, we have formed collaborations with local nonprofits, spiritual centers, and even immigration offices who then refer their clients to us so they are able to receive the mental health support they need.
We're coming up on your one year anniversary since launch - congratulations! What has been one of your happiest or most fulfilling memories so far?
I think the happiest memory was when the Virtue Mental Intern Team and I had our very first team meeting. It was very fulfilling and beautiful to see so many people of all walks of life come together and brainstorm ways we can provide free mental health resources to underprivileged communities and make the world a better place.
In this time, you've likely worked with people from all different backgrounds and experiences. What commonalities have you noticed, if any? At the end of the day, what might unite us in our need for mental health care?
This past year working with people of all different backgrounds and nationalities has allowed me to come to the realization that we all desire the same things in life - and one of them being is the desire to help the people around us. Oftentimes, as human beings, we focus on what sets us apart such as our nationalities, belief systems, political affiliations, etc., but through Virtue Mental, I realized that people are able to unite despite these differences and work together to make mental health care more accessible for all.
What is one thing readers can do today to care for their mental health? Then, what is one thing they can do to care for someone else's?
Taking care of one’s mental health looks different for everyone. However, one thing I recommend ... is to look after yourself first and foremost. Oftentimes, we are so focused on our work and academics, but it is extremely important to take at least five minutes out of your day to practice self care.
Follow Virtue Mental on Instagram to learn more: @virtuementalorg
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