An update on Broadleaf's Mental Health and Child Behavioral Health Program

Broadleaf is addressing a local need in providing school based mental healthcare to students struggling with mental illness. Co-founder, Michael Matergia provides us with an overview of the program and an update from the field.

Broadleaf uses innovative approaches to school-based healthcare to improve the lives of children in the rural Eastern Himalayas. 


Working in our partner schools has brought us face to face with the struggles of children with mental illness. It has also directly led us to the breakthrough idea that a school-based system of mental healthcare delivered by local health workers is a viable, cost effective, and scalable approach to supporting these children.

Rural, resource poor areas have poor access to mental healthcare for children, for whom most first line interventions are therapy, not medications. In rural Darjeeling, India where we are piloting our solution, children’s access to care is limited to one visiting psychiatrist from across the Himalayas. Our solution is to train school health workers in applied behavioral analysis & basic cognitive behavior therapy to deliver care to the children of rural Darjeeling.

In April this year, we conducted a two week session to pilot our training. School health workers and teachers learned about behavioral health through psychoeducation, explored behavior theory, and developed skills to complete applied behavioral analyses and deliver basic CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).

Initial data from this training demonstrated the desperate need local leaders had earlier voiced to us for a child behavioral health intervention. However, it also demonstrated the considerable knowledge and confidence local participants gained in working with children with behavioral health concerns.

Since this time, we have leveraged Broadleaf’s network of School Health Activist to begin to field test this intervention with individual children in the community. Thus far four SHAs have been working with 1 child each, selected in coordination with school staff. They each receive supervision once monthly from a Broadleaf social worker with extensive therapy training.

The initial results have been amazing and surpassed our expectations, I would like to share with you the story of Dhiraj Rai – one of our SHAs- and his student –Nitesh* -- to illustrate the potential of Broadleaf’s approach.

Dhiraj worked with Nitesh after noticing that he was withdrawn and did not complete assignments, to the point of suffering physical punishment. After developing a relationship with Nitesh, including sitting with him at lunch, giving him helper tasks, and moving his seat to the front row during class, Nitesh has begun to thrive. He takes pride in his tasks, participates spontaneously in class, and developing friendships with his classmates. Dhiraj is now moving into the therapeutic phase of treatment, learning about Nitesh’s internal struggles and helping him manage them through therapy.

This story emboldens us to believe that we are developing a program that is appropriately leveled to available local human resources and powerful in impacting the lives of children like Nitesh.

*name changed to protect privacy

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