Exploring community mental health systems – A participatory health needs and assets assessment in the Yamuna Valley, North India

Kaaren Mathias, Meenal Rawat, Anna Thompson, Rakhal Gaitonde, Sumeet Jain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In India and global mental health, a key component of the care gap for people with mental health problems is poor system engagement with the contexts and priorities of community members. This study aimed to explore the nature of community mental health systems by conducting a participatory community assessment of the assets and needs for mental health in Uttarkashi, a remote district in North India.

The data collection and analysis process were emergent, iterative, dialogic and participatory. Transcripts of 28 in-depth interviews (IDIs) with key informants such as traditional healers, people with lived experience and doctors at the government health centres (CHCs), as well as 10 participatory rural appraisal (PRA) meetings with 120 people in community and public health systems, were thematically analysed. The 753 codes were grouped into 93 categories and ultimately nine themes and three meta-themes (place, people, practices), paying attention to equity.

Yamuna valley was described as both ‘blessed’ and limited by geography, with bountiful natural resources enhancing mental health, yet remoteness limiting access to care. The people described strong norms of social support, yet hierarchical with entrenched exclusions related to caste and gender, and social conformity that limited social accountability of services. Care practices were porous, pluralist and fragmented, with operational primary care services that acknowledged traditional care providers, and trusted resources for mental health such as traditional healers (malis) and government health workers (accredited social health activists. ASHAs). Yet care was often absent or limited by being experienced as disrespectful or of low quality.

Findings support the value of participatory methods, and policy actions that address power relations as well as social determinants within community and public health systems. To improve mental health in this remote setting and other South Asian rural locations, community and public health systems must dialogue with the local context, assets and priorities and be socially accountable.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Health Policy and Management
Early online date23 Nov 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Nov 2020


  • participatory
  • needs assessment
  • India
  • mental health
  • community
  • health systems


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