Mindful and Body’s Sheena Dabholkar talks self care and mental health at work
As a World Mental Health Day Special, we're exploring innovative initiatives that promote mental wellbeing in the workplace.

Writer, mental health advocate and holistic self-care coach Sheena Dabholkar's personal experience with the traditional mental health care system led her to start her initiative Mindful and Body. Through it she provides online counsel, tools and resources to help the mind heal. We chatted with Sheena about mental health at work—a topic that’s close to our own heart.

According to statistics from the Institute of Health Metrics & Evaluation (IHME), around 1-in-6 people globally (15-20 percent), suffer from one or more mental illnesses or substance use disorders. 33-year-old Sheena Dabholkar’s relationship with mental health goes beyond these numbers into a far more intimate space. Pune-based Dabholkar began her career as a freelance journalist about 16 years ago and since then has worked in photography, art direction, PR and communications. She founded India’s first photobooth company several years ago and then set up a creative content studio. At present, Dabholkar runs and edits LOVER, a slow India-centric design and lifestyle publication, and earlier this year she launched Mindful and Body, through which she gives counsel, raises awareness about mental health and well- being, and provides tools and resources that focus on self-care. This World Mental Health Day, we are spotlighting Dabholkar’s work at Mindful and Body and using that as a springboard to start a dialogue about mental health at work. We hope you are able to take something back from this conversation wherever you are on the mental health spectrum and regardless of whether you are a solo operator, part of a small team, or a large corporation and irrespective of your role in your organisation.

What led you to start Mindful and Body?

I have been seeing mental health professionals for two decades now and I never got the help I needed just from traditional psychotherapy. Many mental health professionals are not trauma-informed so they’re unable to connect the dots between mental and physical health. There’s also a lack of understanding of integrative holistic practices like meditation, movement and nutrition that are integral to living well. Serotonin is made in your gut! I spent the last year researching the ways in which my peers were investing in their mental health and I found that so many people had been let down by the traditional therapy model, judgmental therapists, prohibitive pricing that adds to people’s financial anxiety and a limited understanding of what therapy can and should encompass.

Most importantly, I discovered that most people didn’t know how to care for themselves, even what that meant for that matter, or how self-care and self-worth are linked to mental health. It’s something we are simply not taught. In my experience, psychological wellness can only be achieved with a more holistic approach because our lifestyles, habits and beliefs are a huge contributor to our wellbeing. I started Mindful and Body because I recognised a gap for this kind of holistic mental healthcare, that used a mindfulness and self-care approach to improving people’s lives. It is not a replacement for psychotherapy. Anybody can provide counsel—including people’s friends and communities, their leaders, families and teachers.

Why did you decide to use the e-course as a medium? What role do you think social media plays in the mental health conversation?

I think e-courses are a great way to share learning resources that are affordable and allow people autonomy in their own self development. People from all over the country and overseas have been signing up— we often forget how important accessibility is.  Our e-courses have a strong self-awareness component with exercises or tools that can be actioned at a person’s own pace. Mindful and Body was only launched officially a month and a half ago which is when we became active on Instagram. I think so many people are using social media as tools for teaching, learning and activism, and that’s exactly what we want to do with it, rather than it merely being a marketing tool. I think putting the blame solely on social media for destroying our mental health means giving up a lot of our own power over the way we use it. It’s our responsibility to create good habits around the way we access social media so it becomes an empowering and validating space. We can do that by consciously choosing who we follow, who we mute, how much screen time we allow ourselves and how much we are willing to engage. Lastly, we have to do the work of learning to unlinking our self worth to other people’s highlight reels. 

I think putting the blame solely on social media for destroying our mental health means giving up a lot of our own power over the way we use it. It’s our responsibility to create good habits around the way we access social media so it becomes an empowering and validating space.

You will agree, that world over, creative people are the ones having the most number of conversations about mental health today. Why do you think that is the case? How do we extend these conversations to corporate boardrooms? 

I think that creatives are more likely to be openly vulnerable and have conversations about mental health as many of them work somewhat autonomously, as opposed to in the hierarchical structures that corporates do. However, I do think creatives often require more mental health care because they are so closely attached to their work outcomes and most juggle many roles in their professional lives. The gig economy comes with its own set of challenges. Many creatives I know are burnt out so we created an e-course called Self Care for Artists and Creatives launching next week that offers solutions and tools to remedy this. We need these mental health conversations to be led by governments, educational institutions, traditional media and empathetic leaders in corporate environments. Instagram is not going to do that work for us. It needs to become a CSR conversation.

Silence breeds stigma.... It is up to institutions and organisations to create safe spaces.

What are your views about the stigma surrounding mental illness and wellbeing at the workplace?

Normalising conversations around mental illness is the only way we will be able to destigmatise it. Silence breeds stigma. I don’t think the onus can be on employees to create safe spaces where mental health can be openly discussed because the risks are immense. It is up to institutions and organisations to create safe spaces. That means people in leadership roles need to be the most informed about mental health. This can be done through sensitisation workshops, mindfulness training and development of safe space policies around mental health. Changing the culture at the workplace starts with changing the culture of leadership so that employers are equipped to support their employees instead of undermining them.

What is your hope for the future? What's in store for Mindful and Body going forward? 

I think mental health care needs to become proactive and preventive and not just curative. It cannot continue existing in a vacuum, limit itself to psychotherapy modules, and be dismissive of lifestyle factors. Healing can look like many different things. At Mindful and Body we’re looking at a lot more e-courses, in-person workshops and hopefully some fun collaborations to result in lots of happy, thriving individuals who deeply understand how to care for themselves.

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