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How I Take On Depression Everyday to Spread Awareness About Mental Health

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By Suyash Kumar:

June 23, 2010, Afternoon

I’m lying in my bed, my head on my mom’s lap. I was home for my semester break. My mood – I’m not sure if I can even describe it. I must’ve had some weird expression on my face, or maybe it was just that motherly instinct that mothers like to brag about with the statement, “Maa hun sab janti hun (I’m a mother, I know everything).” My mom did see something, and couldn’t stop herself from asking, “Suyash, please tell me, what’s wrong?

Maa, main Zindagi se bilkul niraash ho chuka hun (Mom, I feel completely drained by life). I feel absolutely no hope. I feel like I’m a blot on the face of this planet. I don’t see any point in keeping on living like this.

That day is quite firmly etched in my memory, for that is the day when my conscious battle with mental illness started. Right after this conversation, my alarmed but cool-headed mother immediately got me an appointment with the best psychiatrist in the city for that very evening. Some four hours after the above conversation with the mother, I had emerged from the clinic, with a prescription in my hand, carrying a firm diagnosis written in the doctor’s handwriting on it – “Clinical Depression”.

What I felt at that moment can only be described as relief. After 20 years of existence, for most of which I had been a ‘misfit’, ‘loser’, ‘nerd’, ‘weirdo’, etc, I finally knew what was wrong with me. I started taking my medication. The results were miraculous. Within a week or so, I suddenly felt ‘normal’ in what felt like the first time in my life. Little did I know that this was simply one of the highs, in a series of highs, and “India lost to Pakistan waala terrible” lows.

I had always been a sensitive kid, prone to heavy emotions, worry and anxiety. I was always a very talkative kid too, and am often described as being ‘hyperactive’. From the time I can remember, being a resident of mostly tier-2 cities and small-town Indian culture, I was only criticised for being what was essentially me. “Suyash, you talk too much, people will not like you”, “Suyash, stop shaking your legs so much, you won’t get a job if you go into an interview and shake your legs like that when you grow up”, “Suyash, you’re so sensitive. I’m just so afraid of what will happen to you when you leave home for college.

Being a target of bullying in school did not help either. I came to accept that there was something essentially wrong with me as a person, that society will always hate my guts, that I will always be an outcast. What emerged from this was a boy who had absolutely no confidence, whose self-esteem was essentially non-existent, who couldn’t manage to make eye contact with anyone when having a conversation. Hell, making any conversation meant this anxious thought popping up in my head, “What’ll they think of me?”, and what would follow was a very awkward conversation, followed by terrible self-loathing.

Following that fateful day, when I finally got a diagnosis, I decided that I needed to reinvent myself. The society’s rules that I had always taken to heart, believing that the preachers must obviously know what they were talking about, after their life’s experiences, had led me to this. It was time to break out of the metaphorical shackles placed on me by the society that apparently “wanted the best for me”.

Suyash Kumar speaking at the Schulich Graduate Formal 2016

Fast forward to three years later. I had graduated and had been working for two years in a Dutch company as a software engineer. I was definitely a different person. Holding a conversation wasn’t a problem anymore. Neither was making eye contact. My body didn’t shake from stage-fright anymore, when in a public speaking situation. I didn’t nearly care enough about what others thought of me either. But, the “blues” had come back, as they had multiple times in the days before. I hated my job. I needed to do something that was meaningful, something that involved following a passion.

Since my diagnosis, I had become tremendously interested in mental health and psychology and had read voraciously on it, as I still do. It had become a passion for me. I had also realized that the right field of the profession for me would be marketing, for three reasons – a) It involved connecting with people, b) It involved writing (content), and c) It involved creating (campaign, growth hacks, etc.), three things that I really love doing.

In the midst of a breakdown which lasted a few months, and saw me skipping work left, right and center, I wrote MBA admission exams. Four months later, after numerous applications and interviews, I had received my admission letter into a business school in Toronto, Canada.

Suyash at Schulich marketplace

Aug 2014 saw me moving into a foreign land. Canada was like the anti-India. It was quiet, with a very polite society that didn’t believe in suppressing a person’s basic personality. Living in Canada really ‘made’ me. I came to discover, and become proud of what I am. I really really stopped giving in to the “What will others think of me?” attitude. I made friends,  which had always been a struggle.

But those two years were also some of my toughest, thanks to the culture shock, some abandonment issues (from making and then losing some friends), and a very heavy course load. I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (or GAD). During therapy, it also emerged that I might have had the illness since I was a kid. But there was no relief this time. You see, depression I had come to accept, and could somewhat deal with. Anxiety, on the other hand, is an experience that apart from being mental, is also tremendously physical. Dealing with an anxiety attack is one of the toughest things I have faced, and continue to face in my life.

My battle continues to this day. I struggle on a daily basis. I moved back to India in January this year. I had realised that the one thing that can help me cope with my demons is to find work where I would get to follow my passions professionally. It wouldn’t completely fix me, but it would distract me enough, and maybe have some healing effect as well. 

It was a stroke of luck that I found this company called YourDOST and landed a job there in the marketing department. For the past seven months, I have been working to spread awareness about mental health in India, and to help people fight their battles, something I wish someone had helped me out with at all those times that I needed support. This job is what gets me out of bed every morning.

I also started a support group, comprising of some friends I met at a mental health-themed event here in Bangalore. These are people who, like me, have struggled all their lives with mental illness, and together we support each other and try to help each other as much as we can.

Suyash at Tiffin Top, Nainital

I know I have a long battle ahead of me. It may even be lifelong. But I know that this fight is worth fighting. My mental illness tries to break me every single day, but I am not going to give in. In the words of William Ernest Henley:

No matter how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.

Suyash is a sensitive soul who has always struggled to find his place in the world, but thinks that he’s made progress towards it now. He is a marketing professional, with an MBA from Schulich School of Business, Toronto, and works with YourDOST, his goal being to try and make the world a better place, one smile at a time.

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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.

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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.

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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, 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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