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Youthful Approach to Battle Mental Illness Stigmas: Raghu Kiran Appasani

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Raghu Kiran Appasani, Founder & CEO, The MINDS Foundation (Waltham, MA & Middletown, CT)

  • Youthful Approach to Battle Mental Illness Stigmas

    Raghu Kiran Appasani

    Founder & CEO, The MINDS Foundation (Waltham, MA & Middletown, CT)

    Raghu Appasani is the Founder & Chief Executive Officer of The MINDS Foundation which focuses on eliminating stigma surrounding mental illness in rural regions of India by providing mental health education, accessibility to holistic, personalized treatment and reintegration options via traditional crafts therapy. Currently, it operates in 19 villages in the region of Vadodara, Gujarat and serves over 15,000 citizens.

    The organization, started in 2010, was set in motion during this young entrepreneur’s junior year at Wesleyan University where he is pursuing a double major in Neuroscience and Behavior and Science in Society. He founded MINDS following his volunteer experience in Patna, Bihar at the AB Eye Clinic. He was exposed to the reality of health disparities across a variety of socioeconomic statuses first-hand. Simultaneously, members of his family were going through the mental health care system in India when it became apparent to him that things needed to change to work effectively. 
     
    As a first generation Indian, Raghu is primarily inspired by his parents, Dr. Krishnarao Appasani and Shyamala Appasani, who continue to stress the importance of education as a foundation for success. His first experience in social entrepreneurship was in sixth grade while working with his father at GeneExpression Systems, Inc. by  aiding in the organization of conferences in the business development and marketing areas. The primary goal of these conferences was to create an atmosphere in which to bridge and formulate opportunities for collaboration between academia and industry in the medical and scientific sectors. His first research experience in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Greenberg of Harvard Medical School, was where he learned molecular biology and biochemical techniques. He then went on to pursue neuroscience research in the laboratory of Dr. Eric Kandel of Columbia University. He spent the last two years of high school years working on RNA interference to suppress specific tumor growth in pediatric patients, earning him the Intel Science Talent Search Semifinalist distinction and the International Sanofi-Aventis BioGENEius Finalist title for his research. 
     
    During his summers in college, this ambitious student and young scientist worked at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City under the guidance of Dr. Eric Nestler at the Friedman Brain Institute. During his time in his Molecular Neuropsychiatry lab, Raghu was motivated to make the connection between top research and clinical treatment methods—translational research. He researched the molecular commonalities across various drug addictions and approaches to developing new anti-depressants.
     
    Currently, he is co-chair of the Wesleyan Academic Honor Board and Board member at ARCEI: Appasani Research Conferences & Educational Institute. He hopes to pursue an MD and a PhD specializing in pediatric neuropsychiatric surgery.
     
    “I am most proud of (creating) The MINDS Foundation. I did not think, as an undergraduate, that so many people would support me and have such a high degree of faith in my ability to start a non-profit focusing on such a sensitive issue such as mental health. Through the legal paperwork and multiple revisions of business and strategic plans, I continued to have faith in the organization. This past winter, when I finally had the chance to see the field program in action with villagers filing into the main hall to view a documentary on mental health, my heart felt at ease. All of my hard work had paid off, people were learning something. The data speaks for itself. Our social worker, Mehulkumar Solanki, is a loyal employee who clearly shows his dedication for the mission of MINDS through his six-day work week. With the support of my college community, many advisors, mentors, and family, I was able to pull off something which is now directly impacting over 15,000 rural citizens in India—where my roots lie,” shared Raghu.
     
    Like many others, his inspiration was his mother. “My mother, Shyamala Appasani, is my true inspiration. Married at the age of sixteen to her true love, she moved with him to Varanasi from Nizamabad, AP so he could pursue his PhD in biochemistry. She spent her time raising my brother and soon all three of them moved to Boston, MA so that my father could pursue his post-doctoral training. She finished high school in Boston while she was pregnant with me and simultaneously worked as a babysitter to provide financial stability for the family. It continues to amaze me how she balanced school, a family, learning English, and work all in a completely new environment. She then went on to work in department stores and quickly transitioned to working as a teller at local community banks. She eventually received a promotion to a managerial position at a bank and commuted over 100 miles a day to work while balancing a life with a family. It is hard enough being married to a scientist who never has a clear work schedule, but add two children and life becomes hectic. To this day, I do not know how she did it, but she did a heck of a job raising my brother and I. She didn’t stop there; she continued pursue education, receiving a bachelor’s degree in software engineering and landing a position with an international company. She is a woman who continues to amaze me and is my go-to (person) for any advice whether it is work-related, education-related, or my most intimate personal matter,” he said.
     
    It seems like his life was always on point every step of the way but he has had a near death experience which keeps him focused on the here and now. He explained, “When I was 2 years old, I lived in a village in Humnapur with my grandparents and uncles. One day, my grandmother got very angry with me because I kept changing my clothes. She yelled at me saying, “Who is going to wash all your clothes? Not me!” I was a stubborn individual and therefore went to the nearby canal to wash my own clothes. Unfortunately, one of my shorts went downstream and I went to grab it, but instead fell into the canal and also went downstream. Luckily, I ingest any significant amount of water and someone jumped in to save my life. This near death experience is something many people in the village and in my family still remember me for.”
    Luck was on Raghu Kiran Appasani’s side that day and luck for us as his future of helping society in so many ways is apparent and plain to see.  For more information on his organization, visit www.mindsfoundation.org.
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