Skip to main content

Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology: Events


Speaking up, Speaking Freely: Impact of North Indian Women’s Psychosocial Support Groups

Speaking up, Speaking Freely: Impact of North Indian Women’s Psychosocial Support Groups
Speaker: Dr Kaaren Mathias # Director, Burans Project, Emmanuel Hospital Association, India
Hosted by
Introduced by
Date and Time
25th Sep 2017 13:00 - 25th Sep 2017 14:00
Seminar room 5, CMB, George Square Edinburgh, EH8 9LD

Speaking up, Speaking Freely: Impact of North Indian Women’s Psychosocial Support Groups

Monday, 25 September 2017 from 13:00 to 14:00 

Chrystal Macmillan Building 
Seminar room 5 
George Square 
Edinburgh, EH8 9LD

Register at:

Speaker: Dr Kaaren Mathias, Director, Burans Project, Emmanuel Hospital Association, India 

Kaaren Mathias is public health physician working in North Indian with the Emmanuel Hospital association, and leads Project Burans, an initiative working with communities for mental health in Uttarakhand. Her PhD studies were completed at Umea Universitet in Sweden - and her research interests include gender, mental health , community participation, youth resilience and social inclusion. In this lunch-time seminar, Kaaren will present results of a study on the impact of psychosocial support groups on women with psycho-social disabilities. Full abstract is below.


Background: Although major depression is one of the leading causes of premature death and disability in India, there is little infrastructure to provide mental health services in the rural North Indian state of Uttarakhand. The worldwide burden of depression is 50% higher in women than men, and in Indian women gender inequality restricts autonomy and access to social support, further increasing womens’ risk for common mental disorders. In this low resource setting, community mental health models of care may offer the best approach to supporting women with common mental disorders. This study’s objective was to examine the impact of psychosocial support groups on women participating, and their communities.

Methods: This qualitative study was conducted from May to July 2016, across three peri-urban sites in Dehradun district, Uttarakhand, Northern India. Set within a community-based NGO-run mental health project, data were collected through focus group discussions (N=10) with individuals involved in psychosocial support groups (women with psychosocial disability as well as their caregivers), key informant interviews (N=8) with community members and mental health professionals, and by participant observation. Data were analyzed using a thematic analysis approach.

Results: Women explained how learning and talking about their own depression and anxiety increased their knowledge and improved their mental health. PSSGs created safe social spaces for women to talk, which increased women’s confidence to speak freely in their community. Communities were impacted by the PSSGs as women shared their mental health knowledge within the community, and referred and accompanied community members to mental health services. PSSGs resulted in reimagined roles as community members for the women, as they shifted from needing support to providing support to others.

Discussion: Women in PSSGs were able to work together to improve their MH in the context of high gender inequality and mental health stigma. Greater ability to speak out and act collectively may empower women to contribute to household and community decisions, and participate economically, advancing their health and social interests. Our study demonstrates PSSGs’ ability to provide a locally appropriate yet effective program that fits within a diverse mental health service model, and benefits not only the women involved but their community and its mental health. PSSGs may offer support and pathways to recovery where there is little to no mental health treatment available, while increasing the agency of local individuals.

Supported by an ESRC-IAA grant and co-organized by Edinburgh Global Mental Health Network and Social Work subject area, School of Social and Political Science, The University of Edinburgh

white image