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Can Mental Health Professionals Keep Up With The Drastic Changes Of The New Act?

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It’s not enough to be up to date, you have to be up to tomorrow.” ―David Ben-Gurion

The Mental Health Care Act, 2017, which will come into effect from July 7, 2018, shows that the mental health scene in India is about to change drastically. One of the major reasons for this is that the Act ensures that People Living with Mental Health Issues (PLMHI) will have a right to live with dignity. As per the Act there shall be no discrimination on the basis of non-conformity with moral, social, cultural, work or political values; religious beliefs prevailing in a person’s community; one’s  political, economic or social status; one’s membership of a cultural, racial or religious group; or for any other reason not directly relevant to mental health status of the person.

Important Changes

Chapter 2 of the Mental Health Care Act is a massive improvement from the previous act which was extremely outdated. Mental Health Care Act(1987) stated that the Inspecting Officer (a person authorised by the State Government or by the licensing authority to inspect any psychiatric hospital or psychiatric nursing home) is the one who can report if a patient is not being provided proper treatment, and the patients themselves did not have any right to complain about their own treatment. It was the will of the medical officer in charge to do what they deemed fit for the patient. A relative of the patient could only report the improper treatment of the patient to the Magistrate. The Magistrate of the district where the mental health institution is, was in charge of the well being of the patient with absolutely no knowledge of mental health care. The new act ensures discrimination- and bias-free services as well as right to proper care to PLMHI. Now the responsibility falls on the Mental Health Professionals to update themselves.

Targeting Personal Bias

Many of the mental health professionals lack the skills to provide discrimination- and bias-free care to their patients (in a hospital setting)/clients (in a private setting). Constant discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, caste, class, gender, disability, and religion is quite prevalent amongst mental health professionals as a lot of them have not updated their knowledge base or are unaware of the intersections between these social spheres and how it would affect the client/patient’s mental health. Thus sensitisation of mental health professionals becomes a concern that the government has to keep in mind as well now.

Sensitizing Future Mental Health Professionals

Universities, except for a few, do not have it as a part of the curriculum to sensitize the students towards issues of gender, sexuality, caste, class and so on. Karma Center for Counselling & Wellbeing is one such organisation which provides a sensitivity workshop regarding Sexuality and Gender to practitioners. The rest of the intersections still stay untouched. The government is not investing in sensitizing the mental health professionals who are currently practising either. The Act in itself is very theoretical and has no means for practical application.

Supervision Of Mental Health Professionals

Providing the client with fair and unbiased mental health care would be something that this act has tried to ensure for PLMHI but lack of a supervising organisation for mental health practitioners is still a concern that we can’t dismiss because this act has been passed by the government. The clients/patients still do not have awareness about how mental health care is supposed to be and whether it is fair to them or not. There is no set standard that people can rely on. They have the right but have no idea how to exercise it in real life. A proper supervisory organisation would help keep a check on the malpractices and ensure a standard of mental health care, thus empowering PLMHI.

Limiting Definition

Then comes another debate, over the definition of ‘mental health professionals’. This definition forgets a massive chunk of mental health professionals such as psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, social workers (not psychiatric social workers) and counselors. By definition, only a clinical psychologist has been mentioned to be a mental health professional which is quite problematic. Usually people tend to go to psychiatrists or clinical psychologists for care rather than a counsellor or psychotherapist. This is due to the fact that no one knows how the latter two work. Would you go to a cancer specialist if your lungs start to hurt? Hopefully not. You would go to a general physician first. It is vague definitions in such acts that make it difficult for people to get proper mental health care.

A Bright Side?

This act is in many ways far superior and inclusive than the last one, and to a certain extent will change the present situation of mental health care in India, which, by the way, is quiet horrendous. People in mental health institutions are ill-treated and discriminated against on several occasions. This is ground reality of mental health care in India.

Can one really pin all their hopes on the latest Mental Health Bill for being one of the latest improvement in the field of mental health? Only time will tell.

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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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