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‘You Are Smiling, How Can You Be Depressed?’

Why is it that whenever someone says the word ‘depression’ the first image the pops into most people’s head is that of a person sitting in a corner, head buried in their knees, if it’s a woman, then mascara running down her face. Why is it that people always associate depression with crying?

I know people who have lost their ability to cry. Depression has dried their tears and they can’t find it in themselves to cry even if they want to. Why is it that people always assume that depressed people can’t even form their lips into something akin to a smile, let alone laugh? I’ve known people with the brightest smiles struggling to set themselves free from the horrors of depression.

These misconceptions make us blind. Blind to all those subtle signs and indications that your funniest friend keeps dropping to make you realize it’s a facade because he’s too afraid to talk. A friend of yours who’s always laughing, even at the silliest jokes, one random day, walks up to you and hesitantly but hopefully admits to you that he feels like he’s depressed. And that makes you wonder, how can he be depressed? Isn’t he the one who laughs the most? Isn’t he the one cracking the best jokes?

It’s not possible. It’s obviously not. I mean, haven’t we heard that people with mental disorders are standoffish and weird? But he seems perfectly fine. Of course, he’s not depressed, it’s just one of his funny pranks. You laugh because you think you know best, you pat his back and hold your stomach as you laugh at his ‘prank’“Good one!” You exclaim,”man, you can’t be depressed you’re always laughing.” His eyes flicker with hopelessness and fear. Fear for he knows no one understands, but you obviously don’t notice that, because come on, he can’t be depressed! He smiles at you and says “yeah, you guessed it right.” And he walks away.

It took him every ounce of courage he had in his body to walk up to you, it took him everything he had to confess about his mental illness to you. But now that you’ve made him realize that ‘people who laugh can’t be depressed’ he’s never coming back to you.

This happens so often. We end up ill-treating for friends just because we ourselves don’t know enough about mental illness. Which is something we need to fix. We need to spread awareness and try talking to people. Tell them that depression isn’t just about crying.

Not that we haven’t tried, it’s just that sometimes people don’t want to understand. A few weeks ago, our teacher was looking for topics that the class assembly could be based on. “Welfare of people?” came a suggestion. She smiled because helping people is what we’ve been taught to do. “Helping people with ‘physical’ diseases like cancer or AIDS, telling them they’re not alone?” came another suggestion and she smiled yet again.

Finally raising my hand, in a nervous voice, I spoke, “spreading awareness about mental disorders” To this she just laughed and cracked a joke because of course, mental illnesses aren’t important issues. How can we think that they are as serious as physical illnesses! I mean, physical illnesses kill you, but mental illnesses, eh? The maximum they can do is break you down, make you feel like you’re done with life, make you hate yourself, make you think you’re a failure and won’t rise up ever again. But that’s completely okay, because look at you, aren’t you still alive!

This attitude needs to change. We need to come forward and tell people it’s not about just being alive. I mean what’s the point when you’re dead inside? We need to tell them that breathing isn’t enough! Make them understand that just because I’m not tied to machines doesn’t mean I’m fine. Tell them being mentally healthy is as important as being physically healthy. Tell them mental illnesses are as fatal as physical ones.

Depression leads to the formation of various scary, unhealthy patterns. We cry for no reason, feel terrible because we cried and hate ourselves.We go on for days without eating healthy food because eating feels strange. The homemade food feels tasteless so we go out in the hopes of finding something that might not be as tasteless as those 23 other dishes we’ve already tried.

We go for days feeling blue with no one to talk to. We don’t understand why we are sad or why we are angry. It’s just the way we feel. But of course, you don’t understand, but the least you can do is make an effort? I don’t know if reading this helps but I want my fellow sufferers to know this, you’re not alone. Just be strong, when you can.

It has to be the most difficult thing you’ll ever do, but trust me it gets better. So what if you’re a little less productive or if you’re not working as hard as you used to? So what if you’re failing a subject or your parents are disappointed in you? So what if the one you loved left you because you are not the perfect size ‘they’ need you to be?

All I know is that you are trying your best. You’re going through a lot and barely showing it. A lot of people might not care about you but there always will be people who do and who love you. You’re strong and you’ll get through it. It might feel impossible right now, but trust me one day it will happen.

One day, you will sit in your own office or a clinic, one day you’ll have your own book published, your own album released, your own painting being sold at high price. One day you won’t be a disappointment for your parents. One day you’ll have that one person around you who’ll always love you irrespective of who you were. One day no one will care about your size/looks/height. One day you will be happy. And that day you’ll thank yourself for always being strong and never giving up. Just wait, that one day is just around the corner.

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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.

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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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