Will Our Political Parties Rise To The Occasion And Make Mental Health A Priority?

Two thirds of India currently is less than 35 yeas of age and suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged 15-29. These statistics are alarming. Additionally, several young people are coming out of the closet regarding their gender and sexual identities, but society’s response often makes it difficult to live life on one’s own terms. When social structures extinguish the possibility of living an authentic and fulfilling life, suicide feels like the only course of action. Being from the queer community myself, I view suicide as preventable deaths. It can be stopped if we become a more aware and inclusive society. If there’s a way of shaping a better world, I wish to be part of it.

The ‘right to mental health care’ has become a legal provision for the first time in India due to the Mental Health Care Act 2017. However, the government must implement the law in letter and spirit for provision of quality, affordable, accessible mental health care. Thus, Centre For Mental Health Law and Policy, Anjali, Mariwala Health Initiative and Anubhuti Trust formed a coalition to make this a priority issue during an election year. The initiative invited everyone associated with mental health across sectors to join a nation-wide campaign on ‘Bridge The Care Gap.’

Having joined as the Chief Advisor at Mariwala Health Initiative, it has been a privilege to be associated with Bridge the Care Gap. Though I was not an active part of the think tank, the campaign has become close to my heart in the way it has approached mental health from a psychosocial lens and given particular emphasis to voices on the margins. This has been a major first, and as a queer feminist who believes in social justice, this campaign ticks all the boxes.

A painted mask made during an art therapy session to relieve post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Image courtesy of Cpl. Andrew Johnston/Wikimedia Commons.

As political parties were currently working on their election manifestos, our coalition members met with political representatives to explain our demands and provide inputs for use in political manifestos. Bridge the Care Gap also asks for people to sign an online petition to say that mental health matters to their vote.

As a queer mental health practitioner, I would say, one of the critical elements of this campaign are the video-documentaries of first-person accounts from user-survivors, and influencer voices. With the videos in English, Marathi, Bengali and Tamil, there is a significant expansion and reframing of the mental health conversation. We have three mental health professionals with lived experience, including a queer and trans narrative. The videos talk of multiple paths towards resilience, such as psychotherapy, medication, art therapy, and how support is important.

Bridge The Care Gap has also seen support from over 50 organisations, many of whom work on mental health. They are the Live Love Laugh Foundation, White Swan Foundation, Banyan, Iswar Sankalpa, and Bipolar India, with their work areas ranging from knowledge on mental health, service delivery, and user-led advocacy. Notably, we are joined by multiple organisations who do not work directly on mental health, but on child rights, women’s rights, law and policy, LGBTQ concerns, human rights, and livelihood. This participation is crucial and resonates with my politics, for it follows an intersectional and intersectoral approach—looking at systemic and structural barriers and highlights inclusion, social justice and human rights.

With nearly 8,500 signatures and two political parties—Congress (I) and CPI (M)—including our demands in their manifestos, this campaign has become a landmark, with mental health being mentioned for the first time in political manifestos. We had reached out to other national and regional parties, but mental health did not get included in their manifestos. However, we are continuing to engage with others who are yet to publish their manifestos.

This campaign has meant that we will be able to hold two political parties accountable to their promises, as well as widen the stakeholders who work on mental health. Reframing the discourse around mental health and situating it in the psychosocial is key to not only improving mental health outcomes, but working on social justice. But most importantly, we must recognise that any one of us could have mental health issues and therefore we must be involved in creating quality resources that we can bank on.

To participate in this historical campaign, head here to sign the petition.

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