Minds at Play: Mental health support for hard-to-reach children in India during COVID-19

Minds at Play: Mental health support for hard-to-reach children in India during COVID-19

picture of children

Aakanksha Kapoor is the Founding Director of Minds at Play, a curriculum-based intervention supporting the mental health of youth in India and part of the Neevam Foundation. Since its launch in 2019, Minds at Play has partnered with seven schools in low-income settlements in the capital region of Delhi. The RUN Programme (Recognise, Understand and Nourish) consists of 16-weekly sessions based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness.

Key messages: Innovations:
Be mindful of confidentiality in online sessions                              WhatsApp group for children without personal devices or ability to attend Zoom sessions        
Collaborate with other organisations to share the workload and draw from each other’s strengths Collaborating with schools to teach children how to use Zoom for twice weekly sessions
Think about long-term impacts and future collective trauma from the pandemic Audio messages, videos and worksheets to do at home sent via WhatsApp   

Minds At Play is a preventative care mental health programme that aims to bring emotional and mental health curriculums into school systems. Our goal is to make schools safe spaces where children can learn how to express themselves better by understanding how our brains process information and the relationship between thoughts, emotions and behaviour.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, our offline work and school visits have completely stopped. We are trying to find alternative ways to reach our target population, but many children do not have access to devices or stable internet as we work in low-income neighbourhoods in Delhi. 

We have been exploring ways to address the growing need of mental health support and how to translate our ongoing work to a virtual platform so the children do not experience a break in continuity of services. As we normally conduct activities in schools, we did not have direct contact with students or parents initially. We spoke to our school leaders and convinced them to teach their students to use Zoom and put us in contact with families. Once the kids understood Zoom, we launched weekly classes online. After a successful debut, we started holding classes twice a week at the request of schools.

For children who do not have access to personal laptops or phones to use for the hour-long online session, we are using WhatsApp groups. A parent, older sibling or family member joins the group, and we send audio notes, short videos and worksheets for the kids to fill in.


Example worksheet that children can fill in or draw themselves.

The need for group rules, addressing queries, language barriers and confidentiality were taken into consideration in the design and structure. We collect consent forms and emergency contact information. We post group rules as an image and follow up with a voice note. Additionally, children and family members are encouraged to send worksheets and responses back in private messages rather than to the whole group.


WhatsApp group rules in Hindi and English.

Our work is primarily in the preventative space. However, for children needing more mental health support, we involve the school leader and create a plan for the child with specific tools and resources, for example, mood thermometers and breathing techniques. Though the need has not yet arisen, we have partnered with two trained psychologists to refer children with more severe needs.

Based on our experiences, we recommend others providing mental health support to children during this time to collaborate with other actors in the system. Not everyone has to do everything. We can share the workload and draw on each other’s strengths. With so many organisations providing mental health support during the pandemic, this space needs to be collaborative, not competitive. Additionally, it is important to respect confidentiality and have a referral system in place when using online platforms. For necessary face-to-face visits, take maximum precaution using personal protective equipment (PPE) and practicing social distancing.

We also need to think about the long-term impacts of the pandemic and the collective trauma it will cause in the future. Finally, practice self-care to prevent burnout. We need to take care of ourselves first before we can help others!


My Emotion worksheet.

Key resources:

  • "My Hero is You" Illustrated Storybook for Children on COVID-19 (IASC) [Link]
  • E-Learning Pathway for Supporting Humanitarian Work on COVID-19 (Save the Children) [Link]

  • Early Childhood Focused COVID-19 Resources (UNICEF) [Link]

  • Protection of Children during the Pandemic (Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action) [Link]

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