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What Toxic Situations At Work Did To My Mental Health

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Our social media is often flooded with posts on the mental health of actors, artists, entrepreneurs, other big people, etc. They share their stories of how they got to the top, battling what not – and nobody is taking that away from them. Their struggles are real, but so are ours – the struggles of the employees or the ones people in power so easily toss away.

For someone who is and has constantly engaged with young people through various platforms, and as someone who is now working full-time in the field of mental health and well-being of young people, I cannot go forward without talking about what it’s been like to have my own mental health affected because of certain toxic conditions in the workplace.

I have worked in many capacities in different organisations – full-time, part-time, freelancer, volunteering, intern, etc. All of the places that I have worked in are well-reputed organisations that really believe in the values that they portray. However, they haven’t been able to fully create the same set of values within the workspace. Honestly, I don’t know who to blame because work is hard and it isn’t possible to look at everything, every time. Anyway, I know for sure who is not to be blamed – me.

In the last two years, I have encountered several toxic situations as well as toxic people during work. I have met people who enjoy calling out other people’s mistakes on WhatsApp groups and Slack channels with an underlying intent to humiliate, I have met people in power who don’t own up their mistakes, but scream at you in meetings just because you questioned their authority. I have worked with people who have been downright rude and insensitive to their co-worker’s needs, seniors who have probably manipulated bosses to get their not-so-favourites laid off and who knows what else!

These people are real and unfortunately, they are usually found in powerful executive positions. But at the same time, I cannot deny that I have been around some wonderful positive people as well, who have always been a support system across the places I have worked in and have been approachable despite their high positions.

Why am I talking about toxic behaviours, though?

The point behind talking about insensitive and aggressively dominant behaviour at the workplace is that it can lead to a lot of mental breakdowns. It’s true – take it from someone who has been through it. There were two winter months that made me feel all sorts of things. Waking up in the morning had become the hardest thing, and then going to a place that didn’t even like you for eight hours was another challenge altogether. I kept asking myself, “Why me?” but never found my answer. I don’t even want one anymore.

But what I do know and want to address is how certain experiences have shaped the way I look at myself now. Those winter months had a major role to play in making me afraid of so many things in my current workplace – which, to be honest, is the best so far. I lack confidence, I feel anxious on many days, I stress over tiny things like forgetting to CC an email (and guess what, I’m not even supposed to CC every damn mail I send, yet I freak out!)

Do you understand how certain experiences have shaped me? Do you understand how every rude message, every passive-aggressive statement, every freelance story not respected, every volunteer engagement not taken seriously and every ‘tiny situation’ kept piling up till it all became too toxic? This isn’t just me, this is the story of so many people who feel the pressure every day, and are treated like machines rather than human beings.

I’m sure this piece would resonate with many people, and at the same time cause a lot of discomfort to those in power and those who use or let others use their power in a destructive way. I’m still working on a lot of damage done to me by certain situations, but my biggest problem is the way all of this has been normalised because this shouldn’t be normal.

Treating people you work with terribly is not normal, being unfair to them is not normal. Nobody deserves to be treated poorly – this is a belief so many organisations have, yet when it comes to the way their own employees are treated, the motto is forgotten.

I hope someday, we can all move on and be more understanding of one another, because this is not impossible. It is power trips that people go on that make this impossible. And, I believe that once everyone understands the need to be grounded, there will be better working environments which can get more work done than screaming and shouting in a conference room can.

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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.

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, 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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