Image for ‘There’s a lot of space now for solutions.’ Meet the hosts of the Positive News podcast

‘There’s a lot of space now for solutions.’ Meet the hosts of the Positive News podcast

The doctor and journalist who front the new Positive News podcast talk mental health solutions and why hope is a crucial strand of wellbeing

The doctor and journalist who front the new Positive News podcast talk mental health solutions and why hope is a crucial strand of wellbeing

Dr Radha Modgil and journalist Seyi Rhodes describe themselves as big Positive News fans, having followed the media brand long before they were invited to host its new podcast.  

“It was a delight to say yes to [this project],” explains Modgil, a busy NHS GP, author and broadcaster, over the phone on her lunch break. “Finding practical ways to solve problems is something you do day to day as a doctor, so the problem-solving approach to news really resonates with me.” 

The six-part series, Developing Mental Wealth, explores a range of solutions to improving mental wellbeing, focusing on communities in economically developing countries including Guatemala, Peru, Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe and the Ivory Coast.  

For Rhodes, who many will recognise as a long-standing presenter for Channel 4’s Unreported World documentary series, the Positive News podcast offered the opportunity to join the dots of multiple interests. “I’ve done lots of work on mental health, and I’ve done lots of work all around the world,” he says. “So being able to put those two things together was just brilliant.” 

A solutions approach to newsgathering also appeals to him. “[Traditional] news is very problems-focused. But when you [investigate problems], you’ll also hear about people who are looking for solutions. I guess it’s the other side of the coin to lots of work that I’ve done.” 

Besides, Rhodes adds: “The way that people find out about the world is changing. There’s a lot of space now for solutions-focused journalism; people consume it much more easily and readily. I think it lends itself to a digital audience much better.” 

Podcast co-host Dr Radha Modgil followed Positive News long before beginning the podcast

Each episode centres on one solution, taking in testimony from those who have experienced its benefits, with Modgil and Rhodes providing context and analysis. The first episode delves into the Heal by Hair initiative founded by Marie-Alix de Putter, whose hairdresser helped her cope after her husband was murdered in Cameroon 12 years ago while de Putter was four months pregnant. The scheme has so far trained around 150 hairdressers in Cameroon, Togo and the Ivory Coast to counsel their clients and help overcome the social taboo of discussing their mental health. 

“It’s one of my favourite episodes,” Modgil says. “One thing that struck me most is how individuals [like de Putter] have transformed their own trauma, and their own challenges, into change, and into supporting other people.” 

It’s in this episode that Rhodes introduces the concept of ubuntu, a word that means ‘humanity’ in the African Bantu languages and begins with the premise of ‘I think because we are’. It stands in stark contrast to René Descartes’ ‘cogito ergo sum’ (‘I think therefore I am,’) the cornerstone of western philosophy, which grounds existence in the individual self. 

Theres a lot of space now for solutionsfocused journalism; people consume it much more easily and readily

“In African philosophy generally, there’s a much more communal approach to everything, but particularly to mental health and people’s concept of themselves,” Rhodes says. “And that seems to feed through a lot of the projects that we saw, particularly in Africa, but even elsewhere, where there’s such a massive community approach to helping people overcome things like depression, anxiety and more serious problems.” 

For Modgil, the approaches examined in the podcast – taken by communities that are trying to help themselves in regions where official mental health services are scarce – offer a valuable blueprint. “Given the uncertain times we live in at the moment, I think it’s really helpful to have a database of ideas that are helping people,” she says. The hairdressers project, for example, she says, “is something we can all kind of relate to. And it’s low resource, and low cost”. 

But one of the key insights of the podcast, she argues, is the importance of solutions that fit a specific community’s needs. “It’s not about exporting one model from somewhere else. We have to understand what people need, what the local need is, what the culture needs, what the community understands.”

Co-host Seyi Rhodes says the Positive News podcast offered the opportunity to join the dots of multiple interests

The power of a tailored approach is unearthed to particularly striking benefit in episode two. Here, Modgil and Rhodes meet a group of women in Peru, who are supporting the country’s neurodivergent community with their mental health challenges, through the simple act of hosting picnics.  

Ultimately, Modgil hopes the podcast will also give listeners a dose of much-needed optimism. “Often we get this very skewed idea that everything in the world is going wrong, and that impacts our own emotional wellbeing,” she says. “Sometimes when we’re feeling like nothing can change, or nothing can get better, we can develop a sense of apathy and end up thinking: ‘What’s the point? Nothing ever changes.’

“Listening to stories of local communities, dedicated groups and passionate individuals that have come together to effect change – and hearing about what’s actually changing for the better – [can] improve our mental health,” Modgil explains. “Hope is actually a really important strategy for wellbeing.”

Main image: Radha Modgil and Seyi Rhodes, photographed by Sam Bush

The Positive News Podcast – new episode available In the third episode, Seyi and Radha travel to South Africa’s biggest city to learn about a narrative therapy technique called the Tree of Life, which has been so successful it’s now used in more than 40 countries. Hear the latest episode

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