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Dear Ministry Of Health, Thinking Positive Is NOT A Remedy For Depression

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A few days ago, the Ministry of Health, India used its Twitter handle to talk about what depression is and how people could cope with it.

The tweet kicked up a storm with criticism flying in from all sides. The tweet was called ignorant, myopic and downright insensitive to people who are suffering from depression. As I saw all the people rage over the tweet, I felt angry about the tweet as well. I decided that I needed to look into this and write on it. This is what made me actually look into everything that this tweet says about depression. Let us begin:

The Definition

Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person’s thoughts, behavior, tendencies, feelings, and sense of well-being.”

This is the definition that the Ministry of Health, India used for depression. You know the funny thing? It is a word-by-word copy of the Wikipedia page for “Depression (Mood)”. You can check it out for yourself!

The situation is such that this is the page Wikipedia redirects to when people search “despair” or “hopelessness”. So apparently, the Health Ministry of India does not know the difference between depression-the mood and depression-the mental illness! It is something that so many of us don’t know and something that I have been trying to stress upon for more than a year. Now that I know that even our Health Ministry isn’t aware of this difference, it shows how far we still have to go. This is something I can offer no excuses over. It is wrong, plain and simple. I feel like I need to point out that every time I use ‘depression’ in this article I mean the illness, not the mood.

The Coping Mechanisms

Along with this, our honourable Ministry also prepared 10 ways for people to cope with depression. Here I believe that they have been unduly criticised. There are many methods among the ones mentioned that actually have been correlated with lower reports of depressive symptoms.

The Good

Walking and yoga have been shown to reduce reporting of depressive symptoms. Although most studies are actually pretty inconclusive, it could be said that walking and yoga do help for mild cases of depression. There is correlation but no concrete causation. The story of travelling is a similar one as well.

A diet containing fruits and leafy vegetables has also been correlated with lower depressive symptoms but that is when compared with a diet of red meat, fast food and sugary liquids. Again, there has been a correlation but no causation has been confirmed yet.

The advice to sleep eight hours also has similar research backing it up. The people who sleep lower than seven or more than nine hours have had higher scores on depression inventories than people who sleep between seven to nine hours. Even the mention of multi-vitamin tablets, which I was aghast at in the beginning, has some scientific background. Vitamin group B plays a major role in health, with deficiencies being linked to symptoms of psychiatric disorders and depression.

The Bad

Thinking positively, following a routine, keeping clean and being creative – these are my biggest problems with these suggested coping mechanisms. There is no study that says ‘being creative’ would decrease your chances of being depressed or help with your symptoms. In fact, there has been a positive correlation between the diagnosis of mental illnesses and creativity. This means that people who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses are likely to be more creative than those who have not. There is no evidence that following a routine could help with your depression; it would turn you into a more punctual person and punctuality has no relation whatsoever with depression.

‘Keeping clean’ is the next one on my list. People who are depressed have been shown to have poorer hygiene. People who have poorer hygiene have not been shown to be more depressed. It is not the other way around. People who are organised or keep their hands clean don’t have lower levels of depression just because they soaked their hands in soap.

Now we come to the crowning star of this whole tweet – ‘thinking positively’. This is one of those pieces of advice that convince me that I need to work more to raise awareness on mental health. People who are clinically depressed have a hard time thinking positively. As soon as one positive thought comes to mind, it is overcrowded with thousands of negative and discouraging thoughts. It is discouraging and disappointing to see the Ministry of Health actually suggest this as a coping device.

Conclusion

The moment I found out that the definition quoted is that of a mood of depression and not the illness, I knew where the problem was. They suggested some good coping mechanisms but again, they would only work with mild depression at best. It would have been much better if they had included ‘visit a doctor’ or ‘talk to your close ones’ among these. It would have made this image much more accurate.

We use depression as a feeling so often that we forget that it is actually an illness. We have to now use terms like clinical depression to differentiate between the two when we should be aware of it. We have a long way to go. I have a lot of work to do and it seems like I don’t even have the Health Ministry alongside yet.

I won’t shy away from any of it. I will keep going and I will make sure that I can make people realise the difference between depression the mood and depression the illness.

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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.

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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.

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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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