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We Must Go Beyond “How Are You?” For The Sake Of Mental Health

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After the recent death of Scott Hutchison, singer of the Scottish band Frightened Rabbit, music writer Stephen Butchard tweetedI understand the sentiment and real care that goes into the ‘please talk guys’ response to suicide. But Scott Hutchison had been talking about MH (Mental Health) for decades. The larger problem is there isn’t widespread support and services for people who do talk. That’s incredibly isolating”.

What Butchard has pointed at in this tweet is that simply asking people to talk is not enough because there aren’t enough people listening. How I see this is that this is not just about professional services for mental health. But our everyday conversations. We contribute to this every day. For example, when we ask someone how they are doing without intending to sit and listen to them relate the haal (state) of their heart.

A child who is learning to speak is taught that the appropriate response to “how are you” is “I am fine/good/great” and is applauded for learning this well.  In doing so, we are taking away the opportunity from this person to learn the vocabulary that could enable them to express the various emotions that they feel.  We reduce all their emotions to an “okay” or “good” or “great” instead of teaching them to identify their feelings and communicating these to others, to be vulnerable in front of others.

Today, we have a very mechanised way of conversing with each other. We breeze by people asking “How are you?” When meeting a new person, we have a specific set of questions that we will ask people, “What is your name?”, “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?”. When meeting someone after a long time, we ask “What are you doing these days?”

Let’s stop and ask ourselves, why are we asking people these questions? Are we receiving honest answers from them? How do we feel when we are asked these questions? What do we really find out about people when we ask them these? What do we want to find out?

Each conversation that we have with a person is a chance for us to learn something new about them, their life, their challenges, hopes and struggles. Instead, we ask them questions we either do not wish to receive answers to or questions that activate stereotypes. The moment you hear the name of the place a person belongs to, your mind automatically puts them in the box of what little you know about that place. Bengali? Ami tomake bhaalo bashi, roshogulla, maachh-bhaat. Punjabi? Butter chicken, lassi, too loud. The same can be said for when people respond to what they do. Think about it, what comes to your mind when you hear engineer, doctor, teacher, nurse, homemaker, cook? What is the image that pops up when you read each of these words, what is this person wearing, what is the gender of this person, what qualities or attributes does this person have?

Moreover, when did “What do you do” become reduced to what one does for earning a living? Before asking this question to people, we need to ask ourselves that how many of us have the option of choosing a “career” of our choice or have been able to explore the various career paths available considering that none of ours schools gave us a chance to do that. We also need to realise that this becomes the most dreaded question when we are not in a job considered respectable or fancy enough and a nightmare for those of us who are unemployed.

What will happen if we change the way we converse?

What does it feel like to skip the small talk about talk about the things that matter?

What does it feel like when someone focuses on you, instead of your resume, title, achievement, status (or lack thereof)?

What does it feel like to be heard? To be seen?

What would the world feel like if we could find comfort in being honest and vulnerable in front of each other?

Carl Rogers summarised the kind of world we live in and what we can do about it when he said that “There are many, many people living in private dungeons today, people who give no evidence of it whatsoever on the outside, where you have to listen sharply to hear the faint messages from the dungeon.” He is asking us to stop and listen to not just what we see on the surface, but to pay attention to what’s underneath and the implied meanings.

On May 19, we will explore a different way of relating to the people around us. In association with It’s Okay To Talk, an initiative which aims to a create safe space to share our experiences with mental health mental illness and wellbeing, I invite you to join us. Come let’s talk about what would be required to create a world of this kind, create a little version of this world for ourselves and discover how it could feel.

For more details about the event, click 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.

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 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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