Depth of empathy vital when addressing mental health concerns: Carl Rogers Institute of Mental Health


BY | Thursday, 14 December, 2023

The Carl Rogers Institute of Mental Health, in partnership with Project Empathy and IGAR(North) hosted a symposium focused on “Integrating empathy education into mainstream curriculum: Its sociological impact” on December 13 at the Institute.

Vibha Lakhera, the visionary behind “Project Empathy,” updated on the launch of the “Say no to Discrimination” initiative in India in 2016 by the Reachout Foundation.

In her short introduction, Lakhera stated that over the course of three years, this project effectively engaged with schools, students, teachers, school principals, educators, and parents in diverse locations, spanning from the bustling capital of Delhi to smaller towns in the North East and Kashmir. Embracing individuals of various ages, ethnic backgrounds, and cultures, the primary goal was to promote the “acceptance of diversity” as a source of strength. The initiative aimed to confront and counteract the stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination that often permeate everyday life.

The collaboration among children from six states also shed light on the urban/rural diversity, presenting an innovative social experiment designed to broaden the perspectives and empathy of children towards the remarkable diversity of the country. The project illustrated that instilling a sense of inner awakening in early years could profoundly shape the development of compassionate values and nurture respect for oneself and others, as stated by Lakhera.

The transition from ‘Say no to Discrimination’ to Project Empathy occurred during the pandemic lockdown, said Lakhera emphasizing the ongoing evolution of the human spirit in spite of external limitations. The initial participants were children of household workers, and engaging with them inspired the founders to realize that empathy could be taught, felt, and embraced by anyone, regardless of location.

Vibha Lakhera stated that perspectives can be influenced by cultural, social, and economic biases and preconceptions. In 2022, the project progressed into its initial offline phase, titled ‘An Introduction to Empathy: Mapping Meaningful Connections.’ Subsequently, the initiative expanded, instigating discussions on the role of communication and language in fostering empathetic connections.

The notion of ‘Empathetic joy’ was introduced, highlighting the experience of happiness without feelings of envy or resentment towards others.

The session includeincludeed open dialogues on the significance of empathy in education and the efforts made to integrate empathy into the curriculum. Questions such as ‘What would it take to inte- grate empathy into mainstream curriculum?’, ‘How do you teach empathy to children?’, ‘What are some of the sociological impacts?’, Does empathy quotient vary from culture to culture?’ were raised.

Mhozienuo Kenguruse, Principal of Assam Rifles Public School Kohima, noted that they had introduced Project Empathy at the school. Through this initiative, they witnessed students becoming more open and expressive about their feelings, a vital element for their mental well-being and holistic development.

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“It’s essential to recognize and acknowledge the importance of empathy when addressing mental health. Empathy plays a critical role in supporting individuals who are dealing with mental health challenges, as it enables us to understand and relate to their experiences on a deeper level,” said Kezhazolie Cornelius Mere, Chairman CRIMH.

Mere’s observations are particularly poignant when considering the experiences of students in school environments. Many students grapple with mental health issues, and the lack of empathy and acceptance from their peers and educators can exacerbate their struggles. Mere underscored the significance of fostering empathy within educational settings as a means of providing meaningful support to students facing mental health challenges.

He emphasized the need for genuine and heartfelt understanding. “True empathy goes beyond superficial acknowledgment and involves actively stepping into another person’s perspective, recognizing their emotions, and offering support based on that understanding. This depth of empathy is especially vital when addressing mental health concerns, as it can create an environment of trust and validation for individuals who are navigating their mental health journeys,” asserted Mere.

Highlighting how each component plays a crucial role in supporting individuals with mental health challenges, Mere remarked, “Emotional empathy helps us connect with the emotional experiences of others, cognitive empathy allows us to understand their perspectives, and compassionate empathy drives us to take meaningful action to support them”.

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