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What Relationships Restricted By Society Can Do To Our Mental Health

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We are human beings. We are social beings. As social beings, no matter how hard we try, we will need the presence of another human being around. It is in our nature to seek social acceptance, to seek relationships, to seek touch, to seek love. But our intrinsic nature is very much limited by the world we grow up in.

It takes humongous efforts at times to build a nurturing relationship free from all the prejudices. Or rather, free from the boundaries that stop us from dealing with each other’s prejudices and limitations.

Isolation breeds depression. Society breeds depression. But, a nurturing relationship might just create a safe space for someone going through mental health issues.

The Limitations Of Societal Relationships

We live in a world that creates spaces for only particular types of relationships accepted by society. For instance, we need to ask ourselves why certain forms of affection are allowed only in a ‘romantic’ relationship.

Why is it that when we cuddle, kiss, hug, or show any other forms of affection (not just physical) to another person – with whom one isn’t in a romantic relationship – it is easily sexualised? Why is it that a breakup with a loved one is the only breakup we cry over and not a breakup with a friend? Why is it that we value a romantic relationship and valorise it more than friendships and other forms of relationship?

It is even more troubling when two men who aren’t in a ‘romantic’ relationship show physical affection to each other. It is easily sexualised. It’s as if we are afraid of coming to terms with our own self. It’s as if we are afraid to deal with our internalised homophobia. It’s as if we are afraid to love.

Particularly, this idea of a romantic relationship ensures that unless we are in a romantic relationship with someone, we cannot satiate our need for showing and receiving physical affection from a person. This causes touch isolation. This is devastating to all of us.

Physical affection can go a long way in helping someone deal with their anxieties and depression. If we are limited by the ways in which we can show physical affection and the kind of relationships that we can build, then we will always be short of reaching our full potential. This impacts our mental health on a day-to-day basis.

This is even more so when the ways in which one receives or shows physical affection with one’s parents or closed ones is completely limited to only certain forms of affection. It is as if there is a boundary beyond which kids become adults and thus will not be given similar forms of physical affection given as a child.

In a neoliberal world, we will be driven towards thinking about ourselves and living by ourselves. We will be driven away from the idea of community, from the idea of a spectrum of relationships. How do we start reimagining relationships so as to reimagine ways of dealing with our depression and anxieties?

We need to start questioning the boxes we live in. We need to question our sexuality, our gender, our caste, and our class. The more we question our lived realities and why it is lived in a particular way, the more we will realise what really makes ourselves and what is forced upon us. This questioning will lead us to question the limitations we put on ourselves in how we build relationships around us.

If we truly understand what our needs are instead of falling into relationships shaped by rigid societal moulds, then we might be able to ask for what we need without any prejudice surrounding it. This might even be liberating for the one you interact with. Your prejudice free mind and world can liberate the ones around you too and allow them to fully express and understand their needs, and how much they can support you.

It will create a space wherein you can really work on a nurturing relationship, no matter the gender, caste, age, class, sexuality, body-shape of a person. Wherein you understand how your mental well-being can be taken care off without being judged, without being limited, without being sexualised unnecessarily, without resulting in continual neurosis because of the rigidity of society.

As Alok Vaid-Menon beautifully words it, “I want a world where friendship is appreciated as a form of romance. I want a world where when people ask if we are seeing anyone, we can list the names of all of our best friends and no one will bat an eyelash. I want monuments and holidays and certificates and ceremonies to commemorate friendship. I want a world that doesn’t require us to be in a sexual/romantic partnership to be seen as mature (let alone complete). I want thousands of songs and movies and poems about the intimacy between friends. I want a world where our worth isn’t linked to our desirability, our security to our monogamy, our family to our biology. I want a movement that fights for all forms of relationships, not just the sexual ones.”

Only a world like that can allow us to truly confront our mental health issues and care for each other, mentally and physically.

This article was first published here.

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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.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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