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Understanding Depression Was The First Step Towards Accepting My Diagnosis

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The day I was diagnosed with depression was scary for me, and the night that followed was equally bleak. While different people might have different responses to being diagnosed with a simple yet taboo disease like depression, my first response was denial. Well, typical of me, I guess.

When my doctor told me that I had depression, my first question was “Do I really need to take antidepressants?“. I know it might seem similar to asking whether breathing is necessary to live. To some of you, it might even sound like a basic and borderline dumb question but cut me some slack. I didn’t know what depression was and I didn’t want to take antidepressants because I thought they might make me slow. “And if they did, how would I ever write?”, I wondered.

Out of all my supposed achievements in life, I have always have considered writing to be my gift. I might not use big words or dazzle people with my use of obscure literary passages, but I believe I can connect with them. I can relate my life experiences to the topic I’m writing on and bring forth a piece that resonates with the reader.

However, as enjoyable as it might be, writing takes a toll on a person. I am continuously thinking about at least five or more stories at a time in order to move them forward or bring forth some improvement in each one. At the back of my mind, there is always a doubt that I won’t make it in the mainstream world, and my pages will remain scattered in a dark alley far away from my readers.

With depression, a new, and a rather big worry entered my life. A fear, that after all those childish jokes about being crazy I might very well be; what’s worse, I might remain so. Most people regard mental illness as a familiar yet distant concept which they believe exists in a faraway world and not in their vicinity.

Like them, I had built up a fictional and incomplete understanding of what it might be like to have depression or rather what it ‘looks like’.I say ‘looks like’ because, in my opinion, no movie in the history of filmmaking has dared to show how a mentally ill person actually feels. Filmmakers often depict their own understanding of mental illness from an external perspective failing to capture how a person suffering from the condition might feel.

Fortunately, my doctor didn’t have any such misconceptions and cleared my doubts about what depression entails. He told me that depression is just like the common cold (well, maybe not as common), and almost every person at some point of his/her life might feel depressed. The only difference is the degree of that depression.

Another doctor explained depression in a unique way. He said that our mental equilibrium is just like a weighing scale, which is balanced via various bodily functions. However, when this delicate balance is hindered and is no longer managed by the body alone, an external nudge is needed to help balance it. That external nudge comes from antidepressants. Similar to taking medicines for fever, antidepressants can be used as a treatment for depression; the only difference being that the body part that has been affected is the brain. And, we all know how much of a taboo, ailments related to the brain are.

Anti-depressant pills
SSRI’s help to increase the serotonin levels, consequently improving a person’s mood.

Antidepressants, he explained, are a name given to a particular category of medicines under which come many different and vastly diverse subcategories of treatment options. SSRIs or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, that the doctor had prescribed to me, don’t slow down brain activity or result in any such side-effects. Instead, SSRIs quite simply, as their name suggests, hinder the reuptake of serotonin in nerve synapses resulting in a higher amount of serotonin in our body. Since an imbalance or reduction is serotonin levels impacts a person’s mood often leading to depression,

Serotonin is the feel-good hormone of the body whose absence makes us grumpy, lethargic and unwilling to perform any activity. Naturally, an increased amount of it makes our mood generally positive and joyous. SSRIs instead of making us slow, make us happier and ready to take on the world; the extra nudge that I was talking about earlier.

Of course, as any medical professional or logical person will tell you, the medicine alone won’t help. You have to change your lifestyle for the effect of the medication to be long-term. You can’t take antidepressants all your life right? SSRIs give you a temporary nudge to keep the balance in your favour. However, when you stop taking the meds, the balance will tend to shift back to the opposite direction; resulting in withdrawal symptoms.

So, to make sure you stay healthy, happy and healed in the long-term, you need to make sure the medication is slowly replaced by a lifestyle change that results in the same serotonin boost as the meds. This can be anything, depending on who you are or what makes you tick. However, having a healthy hobby like music, yoga, or sports helps.

For me, it was my family’s love and their constant support, Sufi music and of course, writing. Most importantly, you should invest your time in an activity that makes you happy; find something that dulls the pain caused by the mundane tasks of life. I believe, to avoid getting lost in the metallic fog of this overcompetitive world, it is essential to take some time out for yourself and the people you love. Ultimately, this is what keeps us healthy throughout life; physically as well as mentally.

Believing we have a problem is the first step towards being healthy. When I realised I had a problem, and most importantly that the problem had a solution; then only could I take a step forward towards healing myself. If I could do it, so can you.

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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, 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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