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If You’re Reporting On A Mental Health Story, Remember These 6 Points

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Mental health is hard to write about. There are so many emotions involved that you often don’t know where to start, what to say and how much to reveal. But you really want to write and let it all out, and that’s enough reason why you shouldn’t shy away from talking about it.

As difficult and as widely misunderstood mental health issues are, it is all the more important to talk about them. However, with talking about mental health, comes a certain level of responsibility. With your writing, not only are you expressing yourself, but are also providing an insight to others and adding to their knowledge of mental health issues.

You must not only aim to inform, but must aim to write something that could help other people come out with the difficulties they face. That’s the only way we can clear the stigma that surrounds mental health.

All of this may sound overwhelming, but we’re here to help you with how you can go about it.

If You Want To Tell Your Own Story

1. Relax, You Don’t Have To Be The Best Writer

Your feelings and experiences are important, and they need to be heard. You don’t need to be a great writer to tell your story. Talking about a harrowing experience is extremely difficult. The power of your story can give someone else the strength to tell their own or fight their illness. And, that’s how we can all work towards destigmatizing mental health. Won’t that be a great thing?

2. How To Begin?

Everyone has different experiences when it comes to personal stories. So to begin, think (but not overthink) about the one thing that you believe to be the most powerful in your experience and write it down.

3. How Much Of Myself Do I Reveal?

The answer to this is simple. Reveal as much as you feel comfortable. You don’t need to describe every single detail if you don’t want to. It is your story, after all.

Revisit the story to make sure that:

  1. The series of events described are in a particular order that would be easily followed by a reader who doesn’t know you.
  2. You’re sharing only information you are comfortable with.
  3. You’ve clearly explained your mental illness and its identity markers.

4. How Do I End The Story?

Talk about your takeaways from this experience. Share what helped you, your learnings and maybe a message for those who might be in the same situation as you.

If You’re Reporting On A Mental Health Story

1. Be Sensitive

The words we use are important. As we know, there is already a lot of stigma attached to mental health. Do not use words like ‘crazy’, ‘deranged’, ‘mad’, ‘lunatic’, etc. These words reinforce the stereotypes that come with mental health issues and are disparaging.

It’s also not fair to use diagnosable mental health conditions in casual conversations because these illnesses are real and people live with them. Using these words in a nonclinical sense dilutes the reality that each of these conditions holds. Therefore, using statements like “I feel bipolar today” or “I am very OCD about where my things are supposed to be” are insensitive and we must avoid them. What can be used instead is – “I feel moody today”, and “I am very particular about where my things are supposed to be”.

Another thing to keep in mind is – A person is never their mental illness so we shouldn’t describe them in a way that it seems like that. Saying “she is a depressed person” is like saying that being depressed is the person’s existence. The better way to put it is by saying, “she is living with depression”. This sentence portrays that depression is a part of her life and not a description of who she is.

2. When Reporting On Suicide, Avoid The Details And The Method

The way we cover news can have a huge impact on people who are vulnerable. According to this recommendation on reporting about suicide, more than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. And add trigger warnings.

3. Being Queer Is Not A Mental Illness

You simply can’t equate a person’s identity or sexuality to mental illness, just because they don’t fit into the boxes of our heteronormative society. In fact, it is intolerance and discrimination that may lead people from the LGBTQ+ community (just the way it may lead anyone) to experience certain mental health disorders.

4. Do Your Research

Sometimes, while trying to write about mental health, we may confuse two different mental illnesses to be the same. Not only is this incorrect, but also dilutes the problems that each illness brings. For instance, one may think that Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are the same. However, that is not true and each condition has its own distinguishing factors which must be kept in mind at all times. Therefore, don’t forget to do your research and back it up with reliable sources and studies. While most of us are not mental health professionals, but we need to be very careful with what we say, because with choosing to write about mental health, we are entering a territory where we must not be wrong with our facts at all!

5. If You’re Not A Professional, Don’t Tell People What To Do

Don’t try to give advice/therapy if you’re not an expert. Don’t tell people to just fight on and think happy thoughts. While the intent is good, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Just like physical illness, mental illness also requires expert advice and treatment. You wouldn’t tell someone with a bleeding abdomen how to fix it, would you?

Stress on the importance of seeking professional health – sometimes people are able to deal with their illness, but many times, they can’t. And that’s when professional help becomes necessary. Along with stressing on the importance of professional help, what you must also focus on is the fact that it’s okay to get help. A lot of times, people know that they need professional help to deal with a mental illness, what makes them not do it, is the stigma attached to it.

6. But, You Can Always Let Them Know Where To Get Help

Many times, certain content can be triggering to people. When we’re dealing with something super sensitive like mental health, we must remember that a lot of times, people with certain mental health conditions may also read our stories. So, here, it becomes essential to include helplines or places that could provide help.

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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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