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How Discrimination Can Have A Severe Impact On The Mental Health Of Queer Folks

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It has long been our tendency, as human society, to term people who are different as “crazy.” A living example of this can be found in something called conversion therapy, which is practiced in India and the US and elsewhere in between. Conversion therapy claims to “fix” queer people of their queerness, and is a process based on absolutely no verifiable science. Behind all of this is the idea that homosexuality is a disease, and as such can be applied to any and every context where public opinion is largely supportive of heterosexism and the gender binary. Even though the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (pretty much the bible of psychology) declassified homosexuality as an illness in 1973, people still like to invoke a connection between alternate sexual identity and madness.

It’s the perfect dismissive or delegitimizing tactic, isn’t it? But even as more and more of us have stopped viewing homosexuality as a disease, the spectre of mental illness still lingers over LGBT+ people, for different reasons. What if many – hopefully not all – but too many people who identify as “queer” are literally being driven to mental illness by how hostile the world is to them?

There are a number of reasons why people develop mental disorders – genes, brain chemistry, exposure to certain environments and substances, traumatic events, or a combination of these, varying from person to person. But whatever the causes, the effect of a disorder is, broadly speaking, the inability to function optimally.

Now, consider the queer-‘n’-crazy dynamic as a socially orchestrated inversion of this same process. Consider how disabling it can be to live as a queer person in an environment that is prejudiced against you. LGBTQ people living through varying degrees of every day discrimination (simply for being “different”) can develop mental illnesses because of it.

How Stigma Affects Mental Health

Today, a survey tells us that only 48% of youth identify as exclusively heterosexual, but because of a little thing called ‘the closet,’ we may never know just how large the world’s queer population really is. By the grace of insufficient data, LGBTQ people have been relegated to ‘minority’ status. As a minority group they immediately become “othered,” stacked against what’s “normal”. Because they are the “other,” bullying by peers, or family members is all too common, and things only get worse when this discrimination is institutionalized – being denied jobs, seats at schools, and even medical treatment. These processes rapidly graduate from the underhand to the terrifying; from denying same-sex partners a wedding cake to forcing children into gender roles, to murder and corporal punishment. Knowing that your everyday life will probably contain these challenges or threats – well that’s bound to cause high levels of stress and anxiety, isn’t it? So when society has already produced the effects of disability – the inability to function ‘normally’ – for LGBTQ individuals, the slide into actual mental disability seems almost inevitable. To put it more simply, if a little indelicately: treat a person like they’re crazy long enough, and chances are they will go crazy.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

In 2007, the first survey that examined the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ people found that “[r]ates of depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobia, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and alcohol and drug dependence were significantly higher in homosexual respondents,” than in heterosexual ones. Another survey conducted on LGBTQ youth in Iowa found that a whopping 80% of them had been verbally harassed, and 60% of them felt unsafe at school. Studies have revealed the painful truth about sexual violence committed on lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans individuals.


Negative attitudes towards queer identities has also lead to alarming rates of homelessness among queer youth, as well as suicide or suicide attempts, and this should only further our engagement with the intersection of sexuality and mental health. The fact that the Trevor Project, an amazing initiative in crisis intervention and suicide prevention, is needed at all indicates just how bad things have gotten for LGBTQ youth. Clearly there’s a link between forms of discrimination the psychological burden it brings to LGBTQ people. It’s no wonder then that the central theme for this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia happens to be “mental health and well-being.”

It can no longer be acceptable to “fix” queerness. What needs fixing is society’s negative attitude towards queerness. Even as we resist the incorrect and outdated notion that ‘queerness’ is equal to ‘mental disorder’, we must also recognize the ways in which homophobia, transphobia, biphobia – all prejudices against people based on their identity – threatens the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ-identified persons.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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