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68 Days Of Lockdown: Let’s Not Forget Kashmir This World Mental Health Week

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People around the world are celebrating World Mental Health Week to support the ones who are suffering mental ailments, with the dual objective of spreading awareness, and ending the stigma that comes with the term “mental health.”

Whilst we talk about the world, we cannot, and should not, let go of the issue in the context of Kashmir, which has been under a lockdown for 68 days. When we talk about the Kashmir issue, not much attention is paid to the mental health crisis in the valley by the mainstream media.

As per the Kashmir Mental Health Survey (KMHS), nearly 1.8 m adults (45% of the adult population) in the valley are experiencing symptoms of mental distress with 41% exhibiting signs of probable depression, 26% probable anxiety and 19% probable PTSD. Subjects of the study reported that the gap between treatment need and provision in Kashmir is multifaceted and complex. Moreover, it was pointed out that the barriers to seeking treatment, included, lack of awareness of psychiatric services and therapies, travel time, cost and distance to services and poor and inadequate physical infrastructure.

While the research was conducted in the year 2015, the picture has not de-escalated, but deteriorated, only because of the number of casualties, the intensity of conflict, army occupation, and the aspirations of demanding freedom have overall increased.

Living in the Valley for a month this summer, and spending time with local families from more than 5 districts during my sojourn, I was able to conclude that there’s a deep-rooted fear amongst the families; majorly the women, about their family’s safety. And some even talked of being haunted by the thoughts of their spouses and children being harassed or going missing at any moment.

All these fears and apprehensions boil down to developing fear and anxiety and over a period of time, they lead to abnormal behavioural patterns and depression. According to normal human psychology and based on my own experiences, I can say, that having army personnel in every corner of the valley, at every short distance, with their hands on the trigger, all the time, is indeed deadly. Having to live with that sight, in front of your eyes for decades, is surely dreadful; the populace of Kashmir has lived with this reality for decades.

To shed some more light on the critical condition of the issue, an article by the Rising Kashmir in 2018, pointed out that there exists only one Psychiatric Hospital in Kashmir named ‘The Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences’ (IMHANS) in Srinagar, and it has only 6 doctors, who purvey services in another hospital, named SMHS, on a rotational basis. The hospital has the manpower of 4 staff which has affected mental health care in the state in a huge way.

After the abrogation of Article 370, the situation in the context of mental health has only worsened. The conflict has intensified, and the citizens have become hopeless. As soon as the population sensed something fishy during late July, after the increasing army occupation in the valley, the number of patients seeking mental health services increased, and the figure has been increasing ever since.

One report also highlighted the spiking sales of antidepressants and similar mental illnesses medications after the constitutional status of the state was amended. Not being able to talk to their family members; seeing dear ones with deteriorating chronic illnesses and still not being able to take them to the hospital or provide medications or feed them properly, lead to the further degeneration of mental health.

Below are some images which tell us of the mental health situation and crisis; quoting a few doctors.

Courtesy: Instagram @standwkashmir


Courtesy: Instagram @standwkashmir

What should be more shocking to all of us is news of children as young as 8-9 years old being treated for mental illnesses. Isn’t that a sign of the times?

It doesn’t seem like the situation will end any time soon. The only temporary solution or way out is to tackle this evergrowing mental health pressure in the valley. What can we do? Stand in solidarity and use the full power of the democracy, by demanding that the government ease the restrictions on the local citizens.

Other than that, solemn measures that need to be taken by the state and concerned authorities are:

  • Decentralising mental health services.
  • Developing infrastructure and employment of not only more psychiatrists but also psychologists, counsellors, nurses, pharmacists and social workers.
  • Increasing employment opportunities for the educated population.
  • Skill development programmes for women and youth.
  • Livelihood and employment opportunities for the unskilled and uneducated manpower.
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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, 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
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