Dr Mohan Bhat, psychiatrist and associate medical director here at NELFT, has been committed to promoting mental health awareness throughout his whole career. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Bhat began a fundraising campaign with a focus on staff wellbeing. Dr Bhat has been using a Youtube cover series of classic Bollywood music videos he recorded himself to help push out his message.
We caught up with Dr Bhat to find out a little bit about what inspires his philanthropic work.
Tell us a little about your role and what you do at NELFT
I have been in NELFT since 2004 and I also trained at NELFT, before becoming a consultant old age psychiatrist. I am currently an associate medical director for Barking and Dagenham and an old age psychiatrist within the Barking and Dagenham older adults’ mental health team. At the start of the pandemic, I was redeployed as the consultant in charge of the NELFT COVID-19 ward for a period of six weeks, and helped provide the clinical leadership in setting this ward up.
What do you do when you aren't working or fundraising?
In the last two months I have been spending time doing song practice to ensure that I can record and post the 10 songs that I had challenged myself with. I thank my family for putting up with my singing practice. Other than that, I would spend time with my family and ferrying my son to the different activities during the week. In the last year I’ve also spent time at the allotment that I got end of last year and have had reasonable success with the vegetable growing for the first season. I learnt a lot from this. More than anything, I learnt to be patient and to wait for the results of ones efforts.
How did you get started with fundraising for the Health Way Foundation?
This was all conceptualised when I was on a week’s holiday break during August, after the first wave of the pandemic had eased. I had been listening and singing songs during evenings after returning from work to help me get over the anxieties and found solace from it. I knew how much the staff were being affected by working during the first wave. I was also challenged both professionally and personally but benefitted from singing and it helped me get over the COVID blues. Whilst holidaying in Cornwall in August, I thought of sharing my experience with others and also attempted to start raising awareness of the need for NHS staff well-being measures. There needs to be variety of options for the staff to choose from as not one size fits all. I contacted the Health Way Foundation as this is the charity linked with NELFT and got started on this journey on the 1st of September 2020.
How and why did you come up with recording music videos as part of your fundraising?
I was redeployed to establish the COVID inpatient ward in NELFT, which I ran for a period of six weeks. During this period I faced the challenge of not only managing the patients on this ward, but also providing leadership to the clinical team on the ward. I saw the brittle, emotional and the human side of the staff working with me and how they all put this aside within a blink of an eye when they cared for the patients. Coming from a BAME background, I also was faced with anxieties on the personal front with my wife developing COVID symptoms and then having to self-isolate. During this period of uncertainty, I derived solace from taking to singing old Bollywood classic songs; something which I had not tried any time in the past. I decided to choose this option to spread a feeling of positivity and also use this to raise the awareness of the need for NHS staff wellbeing. I have also had the experience of using music sessions for my patients with good success and good outcomes.
What do you find most challenging about this process?
Whilst I enjoyed singing my songs which were Bollywood songs, my challenge was how to get my message across as these songs would only appeal to a certain population. I tried my arm at singing some songs in English but being non-trained in music I struggled at it and hence gave up that option. I then decided to run subtitles for the songs that I sang and hoped it would keep people engaged. Apart from singing I also learnt recording the songs, editing, inserting subtitles and working my way around the Youtube website during this period. I also thank my family for being patient with me singing every night, practicing before I recorded the songs. Also funny I have to say this, it took some convincing to some of the staff that it was indeed me singing!
I had thought to keep my motivation going to complete the 10 songs may be a challenge but it proved to be the least difficult as all the encouragement I received from people saw my through these songs. Before I posted my last song I had over 3,500 views for my songs which I never expected when I started this challenge.
What have you enjoyed the most throughout this process?
The whole journey was enjoyable and in doing so it helped me to deal with my own anxieties. The thought of me not only recording 10 songs but also sharing them widely may have sounded completely crazy to me a few months ago but I enjoyed each moment of this journey. I learnt a lot of new skills; I reconnected with many friends who saw me singing on social media and made contact. I also have stimulated others to rekindle their hobbies and saw myself advising about how to create videos and running a Youtube channel.
But the main enjoyment was when I had some staff who I never worked with coming back to me with comments saying that they found my singing very soothing and one staff member informed me that she listened to these songs in the background whilst working as it helped her to feel relaxed.
Why did you choose staff wellbeing as your cause?
During this pandemic our NHS staff have not only shown exceptional courage but also have worked with selfless and tireless dedication on the frontline to get us all out of this situation. Their dedication has been unfazed even when they were faced with personal challenges and seeing some of our brave heroes succumbing to this. However these challenges in the last couple of months have taken its toll on the health and wellbeing of the NHS staff. Various steps are being taken to help staff within our Trust with everything ranging from blues, stress, anxiety and depression. There cannot be a one size fits all solution and there is a need for a variety of measures available for the staff to choose from. I also felt that trusts are offering great stuff to support their staff, but this is an area where I feel any extra help will always be welcome. I thought of this as my fundraising cause and in my own way say to say thank you to all the staff for their role in our fight against COVID-19, this pandemic.
Have you had any donations that surprised you?
First of all I thought it would be crazy to sing and record songs as my challenge for fundraising. I went along with a suggestion to keep a target at £5,000. I was completely out of my comfort zone. When the donations started to flow, I was very humbled by each of the contributions irrespective of the amount contributed. I felt that people valued the cause that I was singing for and this gave me great satisfaction. There were a couple of big donations which completely took me by surprise and one such donor has also chosen to be anonymous. As of today, I am taken aback to see that I have actually started to exceed my target of £5,000. I thank all the donors and all those who have supported my cause in their own way either by contributing or sharing the links across their social media groups.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about donating?
I would appeal that you visit the fundraising site and listen to the songs I have posted as I have themed them and have tried to pay my tributes to the various staff from the domestic staff and porters working in our services to different clinical groups. I believe that everyone has contributed to this fight in their own way. The NHS staff have worked through the first wave and then had to focus on getting the services back on track when we are hit with the second wave and winter pressure. Even though we portray and like to see them as ‘superheroes’, they are also human and I have seen the brittle side of colleagues, while working alongside them and feel that they need the help and support from us.
You’ve reached your fundraising goal. What do you hope to do next?
I am glad that I have reached my target of £5,000, but I reiterate that any extra help is always welcome for this worthy cause, so I appeal to all to continue to support the cause. I will still be involved in my own way to support staff wellbeing measures in my capacity as consultant psychiatrist and also the associate medical director for Barking and Dagenham.
To find out more or to donate to this cause, visit Dr Bhat's fundraising page here.
All 10 of Dr Bhat's music videos can be viewed on Youtube here.