Interview by Nikkon Balial
The Limelighting Life Collective was founded by counselling psychologists Dakshita Sabharwal and Radhika Goel in the year 2020. Based in New Delhi, they aim to build a collective of people from all walks of life. Promoting awareness about mental health among individuals through psycho-education, workshops, and interactive sessions is their major goal. The following interaction provides a glimpse into the work that they have put into their organisation and what they hope to achieve from it. They also discuss the trials that they have to parry regularly and the endearing moments that keep them in high spirits.
Nikkon: When I first got to know about your mental health collective and the fact that I have to interview you, I was really excited to talk to both of you. The pandemic has made us realize how important mental health is and that we don’t give it as much importance as it deserves. And so, I am happy that I am interviewing the two of you today.
I would like to ask you about your organization, what it is about, and how did you come up with it?
Radhika: Thank you so much for having us, first of all. And we would start by talking a bit about our organization. So, we are a mental health organization and we are based in Delhi. We started as a formal organization in September 2020, in the middle of the pandemic (nervously laughs). Both of us are counselling psychologists and we studied together. We are the founders and directors of the organization. We have a small tagline, so to say, of the organization, which is, “Bringing the Mind into the Limelight.” This explains what the organization means. Simply put, it aims to normalize the concept of mental health in India. And that is what we do.
Nikkon: That is very good to hear. There is no better time to start such an organization than the middle of the pandemic. So, that brings me to my second question–why did you think there was a need to come up with an organization such as this? Was pandemic the reason?
Dakshita: I think, it’s not because of the pandemic that we started it. We had started with an Instagram page in March of 2019 and at that time our main idea was that we are doing our masters and there were lots of ideas that we had in our minds. But we thought there was no perfect outlet to channel that creativity. So, during the pandemic, when we realized our masters was almost done, we thought of making it more formal. We thought, with our degrees we would be more credible, which is why we wanted to formalize it and get it registered as an organization.
Nikkon: Who are your major target groups and who is this directed towards? When you were formulating the organization, was there any specific group of people that you were considering to be the main focus?
Dakshita: We mutually decided that we wouldn’t want to just focus on one group. We want everyone to benefit or maybe learn something from our organization. So it’s open for everyone and directed towards everyone but over the last couple of months, we have been able to interact more with the youth.
Radhika: Our engagement has been more with the youth in India specifically, but we also had sessions with children and adults. So, it’s like a mixed bag. I want to add one point since you spoke about the need to come up with the organization. One of the things that we want to focus on, even though we have just started and it’s a very new organization, is to follow the ethics that we have in the field of mental health and psychology. While we were having our own experiences when we were studying, there were a lot of organizations that we worked with. They are doing well but there were instances where we felt a breach in ethics or that the things that we were taught were not being followed. And it was in different capacities. So we wanted to do something bigger after that, you know, have an organization which would abide by all those ethics that we study when we are in the process of becoming psychologists. So making the field of mental health more accessible to everyone, not just people who know psychology or who are pursuing psychology. That was also an additional idea that was behind creating this organization. Coming back to the question on target groups, as Dakshita said, it’s open to all right now.
Nikkon: Why do you call your organization a ‘collective’? Is it because you want to develop a community feeling around the topic of mental health or because the organization’s nature in itself is a collective? How would you define that?
Radhika: So we use the term ‘collective’, as you said, in a very community sense. Right now, we are only two people who are working but we are in the process of building our team, and currently, we are working on that. So yes, the word collective is drawn from working towards a community aspect and bringing mental health to people.
Nikkon: I had an impression that maybe it’s already an institution of sorts since you used the word collective. That was just my impression of it and so, I just wanted to clarify.
Radhika: That’s absolutely fine.
Nikkon: The theme of the magazine for the month is Respair, which is to head towards hope after a time of despair. How would you relate to Respair and how would you connect this feeling to your organization and what it does?
Dakshita: So the theme itself seemed really interesting when Radhika and I were discussing. We completed our masters during the pandemic itself and once your masters in psychology is done, you have a few traditional paths open to you that you can take up, like a job or something. When we thought of coming up with our own organization, we had lots of apprehensions and fears about all of those things. And we had to think of stuff like financing, professional stability or uncertainty about the future, you know, where is it heading, how will it happen, all of those things. Which is why eventually we decided that we have to take baby steps, we have to take one step at a time. And that’s how we would relate to the concept of respair. And recently we came out with our website. We launched it this year as Radhika mentioned and we are also trying to build our own team. So that is how we would interpret this term.
Radhika: There’s another thing that when we are talking about mental health. So there are a lot of organisations working for mental health, there is like a community of mental health. And sometimes it is very difficult to keep up with everything that’s happening and not succumb to the pressure because everyone is doing so much. And especially, as you said, in the pandemic, there’s been a sudden shift of focus towards mental health. So everybody is coming up with so many things. It gets difficult to not give in to that pressure so we try to go on at our own pace. Individually also, there are things that pull us down. And again, so many things to consider, with finances and professional stability. And starting an organisation in the middle of the pandemic was something we thought would probably give us some respair but also has its own downside, as she mentioned.
Nikkon: So you answered my next question already but I would still like to ask you this in case you want to add something else. Respair is this feeling of rejuvenation in one sense of the term, so how does this feeling relate to the birth as well as the functioning of Limelighting Life Collective as an organisation?
Dakshita: So you know, sometimes Radhika and I refer to our venture as our baby. There is a different sense of attachment or sensitivity which naturally comes out when we are talking about Limelighting Life. Even when we do something really small, we just enjoy the process and the way people react to it when it comes out or when they have some suggestions to share with us. So that is one feeling that sort of fills us up. There is so much contentment and excitement at that time.
Radhika: We have had sessions and workshops during these few months. We have had the chance to interact and work with people from each age group from all over the country. So it helps to bring back that human connection and it is also heart-warming to converse with people you haven’t met before. That is also something that gave us that feeling of rejuvenation.
Nikkon: That’s really good to hear because this virtual way of connecting is very new to all of us. Of course we have done that before in some capacity or another but the fact that you are meeting entire communities of people just through a computer screen is also a daunting task. So it is also good to hear that it was rejuvenating for the two of you to some extent.
Radhika: We would just like to add one more thing. It’s a very nice incident that happened that Dakshita would like to share.
Dakshita: Yes so we had a session with children in December. After the session was over, a parent got back to us and she said this is the first time that her daughter came out of her room and she was smiling. So when both of us heard that, it was really big for us.
Nikkon: Of course!
Radhika: There was this feeling of fulfilment. During these times, the interaction with our parents and within the family members has changed. So that was also a motivating experience. And that is the main aim of our organisation. There are so many people who are hesitant to seek help when it comes to mental health. So improving people’s understanding and acceptance of mental health is something that we as an organisation are working on, be it through workshops or interactive sessions. And we hope we are able to destigmatize mental health at some level.
Nikkon: Yes, I hope so too. And thank you for sharing that incident with me. So finally I just want to ask if you have any words of hope for people today who are going through a mental health crisis and still may be apprehensive about seeking help?
Radhika: The first thing would be just to realise that you can’t really be alone and it is okay to ask for help. There is no need for you to walk on a path all alone, it’s okay if you have support, it’s okay if you don’t have the support and you are asking for support.
Dakshita: And also the fact that we can all walk at our own pace. Despite the schedules we have, it’s not a race, and we can walk to our own finishing lines, the ones that we decide for ourselves. And another thing would be that we need to breathe and we need to learn to breathe.
Nikkon: (Exhales) that is definitely true! That is my take away from this interview for sure. Thank you so much for talking to me, it was lovely.
Both: Thank you so much for having us!
Nikkon Balial is a foreign policy enthusiast, a researcher and skilled at project management and communications. She has worked at several NGOs, think tanks and projects across the US, Europe and India. Currently, she holds the position of Programs Associate at MASH Project Foundation in India where she develops national and international projects, fosters partnerships and manages programs with diverse communities. She can be found on Instagram