This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Siddhant Nag. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

7 Things That Opened My Eyes To The Grim Reality Of Mental Health In India

More from Siddhant Nag

It is estimated that 1 in 20 Indians is living with depression in India. Yet, mental health is something we rarely talk about. Stigmatised to an extent that people fail to identify mental health issues, and hesitate to seek help, it is a subject that needs to be brought into everyday conversation.

To this end, Youth Ki Awaaz and the World Health Organisation organised #LetsTalk, an event to break the silence around depression and address the issue in a helpful, sensitive, informative manner. With over 150 people from all walks of life in attendance, the event kickstarted with a powerful spoken word poetry session performed by Delhi-based group, Bring Back The Poets, followed by a panel discussion with mental health professionals, wellness counsellors, and therapists, which finally gave way to an interactive question and answer session.

Insightful, thought-provoking and engaging, I was emceeing at the event, and took away a number of important lessons from it:

1. The Emotion-Inducing Impact Of Spoken Word Poetry

The introductory spoken word poetry session gave the audience a first-hand experience of how raw and powerful the medium of poetry really is, especially to navigate sensitive issues. During the recital, Aditi Angiras (Founder) and Himel Sarkar from Bring Back the Poets, along with prominent poets Arshmeen Baveja and Shreyasi Sharma brought in their unique style and flow, intertwined with personal experiences and opinions that told heartfelt stories of internal turmoil.

2. You Don’t Need To Undergo Trauma Yourself To Help Someone Heal

A recurring theme during the panel discussion was that the first step towards helping someone heal begins with lending an ear and listening to an individual who’s under duress, allowing the person suffering to share their experiences without judgement.

Encouraging professional help is important, too, but equally important is to help individuals seek the right kind of professional help. For instance, Akshay Bajaj, who was previously diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder, spoke about meeting an insensitive counsellor who couldn’t diagnose him. “I felt like if an expert can’t understand what’s going on with me, who will?”

Dr Aditi Kaul, Arts-based Therapist at Fortis Healthcare, had words of comfort, however, “You can shop, you can visit as many doctors/professionals until you find someone who you feel is the right fit.”

3. There’s A Dearth Of Mental Health Professionals In India – 300% To Be Exact

Another important insight thrown up was that there is a supreme dearth of mental health professionals in the country, as well as of spaces, institutes and centres, to address mental health issues. In 2014, it was estimated that India had 1 psychiatrist for every 200,000 patients; a number which has steadily increased since. Given that the issue is a glaring one in the Indian context, this begs immediate government and policy level intervention.

4. The LGBT+ Community Needs Safe Spaces To Discuss Mental Health Issues

We rarely talk about how marginalised communities experience issues with varied intensity. Manavi Khurana, Founder, Karma Centre for Counselling and Wellbeing, gave special focus to mental health issues among India’s Queer community and how few centres exist that have expertise in dealing with this.

Adding to this crucial discussion, Akshat Nauriyal, Co-Founder St+art Foundation and director of the film ‘Meet Naina’, spoke about his experiences working with a young transgender teenager – Naina, and issues of additional ostracisation of the transgender community and how it leads to an increased likelihood of mental health illnesses.

With such issues on the rise, it is imperative that enabling equal access to affordable, sensitive and non-judgmental health care is made a priority.

5. There’s Always Hope. Suicide Is Never The Solution.

Ajay Malhotra, a volunteer from Sumaitri (a suicide helpline), aptly compared the crisis intervention centre to a pressure valve that allows you to vent your feelings and thoughts, to prevent aggravation of your condition and suicide ideation.

With the number of suicides in India on the rise, it is evident that we’re falling behind on providing timely intervention. Moreover, with so much stigma around the issue, cases of extreme depression go undetected. The first step towards suicide prevention is to be able to give hope to those suffering and let them know that suicide isn’t the solution- seeking treatment is.

6. We Routinely Overlook People With Disabilities When We Talk About Mental Health

During the question and answer session, a member of the audience spoke about how the deaf and mute community often faces difficulties with regard to accessibility every day, especially communications with healthcare professionals. Mental health care, which in any case sees an extremely low patient-doctor ratio, has even fewer professionals that can communicate with sign language, creating a deficit beyond comprehension. The astute observation brings to mind the need to address accessibility for people with disabilities when we talk about improving mental health care.

7. Mental Health is a stigma created by us. It can be dispelled by us.

Most of all, the event brought to light the fact that stigma around mental illnesses exists because of a large amount of restriction we place on talking about certain topics and subjects – while it’s okay to talk about a broken rib, it’s not okay to talk about depression. I realised in that room, with so many experiences, opinions and stories being shared, that it’s a problem that we have created for ourselves, and we ourselves hold the key to break the shackles and remove the apprehension from our immediate environment.

You must be to comment.

More from Siddhant Nag

Similar Posts

By Shrsti Tiwari

By AgentsofIshq

By AgentsofIshq

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below