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‘Migrants in slums experience higher burden of depression, but show resilience’

DMU will lead the interdisciplinary project, which aims to use theatre storytelling practices to raise awareness about mental health and provide support for migrant slum-dwellers in Pune.

For the first time, an international research project in Pune will focus on the mental health resilience of internal migrants. As part of the project, field workers will try to elicit information about the migrants’ lives and experiences, which will then be woven into theatrical performances, with the migrants as part of the audience.

These migrants experience a higher burden of anxiety and depression, said Professor Raghu Raghavan, a mental health expert and director of the Mary Seacole Research Centre at De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester, United Kingdom.

“Mental health narratives of internal migrants in India have so far tended to focus on the prevalence of psychological distress, anxiety and depression, but we have scant evidence about the resilience of migrant slum dwellers. The psychological distress and experiences, as a result of migration, can indeed be a risk factor for higher prevalence of mental disorders, but the lack of knowledge on how migrants manage risk in the midst of adversities and build resilience to live positively is an untold story,” Raghavan told The Indian Express during a recent visit to Pune. The extensive study started in November last year and will go on till December 2019.

The urban poor comprise 50 per cent of the city’s population and there are over 500 slum clusters in Pune, as per the 2011 Census. Most of the residents of these slums are migrants from rural areas, who have come to the city in search of employment, said Raghavan. “Our plan is to develop this study into a major intervention, where migrants are able to tell their stories of resilience…”, he said.

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DMU will lead the interdisciplinary project, which aims to use theatre storytelling practices to raise awareness about mental health and provide support for migrant slum-dwellers in Pune. The project is funded by the Medical Research Council, Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Global Challenges Research Fund.

The project also involves researchers and theatre artistes from the Excavate Community Theatre, Nottingham, UK , Swatantra Theatre Group, Pune, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, and the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru. These institutes will develop a collaborative model of applied theatre practice to explore mental health and well-being among migrant slum-dwellers.

“A key feature of our participatory approach in the project is our aim to build the theatrical activities from the experiences of migrants who have come to the city in the last 10 years. Field workers in Pune will recruit a sample of migrants and elicit their life stories using a method of biographical interviewing and interpretation, where the researcher starts with a single question to elicit a person’s life story. The question is: ‘Tell me the story of your life’ . Their stories will then be told in the form of theatre performances by the Swatantra theatre group and the performances will be shown to the community in the hope that their reactions can be captured and more experiences can then be collected,” said Raghavan.