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We Don’t Shame People For Seeing Doctors So Why The Stigma About Therapy?

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In 2014, when the news of the sad demise of Actor Robbin Williams came out, it was not only Koko, the Gorilla at California Gorilla Foundation but the entire world that mourned in shock. Williams was found in his apartment and he had died of asphyxia due to hanging. No traces of alcohol or drugs, which at one point in time he was addicted to, were found in his blood. Socially, he seemed normal and took the decision to end his life in a “healthy mind”. But was he healthy? NO, certainly not. People found it hard to believe that Williams, so successful, rich and a family guy, who taught the world how to love, laugh and live, through his movies and stand-up comedy, was suffering from depression. In my opinion, the most lethal illness is mental illness, which a normal eye cannot see, and which the person suffering can only feel. Sometimes the person suffering even may not know that he is suffering. 

Mental Health Stats We Can’t Ignore

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently released a statistic – 7.5% of the total population of India is suffering from mental illness. That is more than 100 million people and 15% of the total population of the world is suffering from mental illness. If you take all the people suffering from mental illness in India, they will create a group which will be amongst the 15 most populated countries in the world. The survey also suggests that by 2020, the percentage of people suffering from mental illness will grow from 7.5% to 20%. That will be around 270 million people alone in India. Indonesia is the fourth most populated country in the world, with a population of little more than 270 million people.

The situation is not just alarming but destructive, considering the rising population of people suffering from mental illness, and the availability of professionals in India. Around 4000 trained professionals are available in India to tackle these problems, according to the report published by WHO. But the scariest part is the country is not talking about it. Approximately 10% of Indians are suffering from diabetes and we talk about it, but we choose to remain silent about the mental health of 7.5% people. 

How The Stigma Affects People From The Queer Community

The mental health system in India is not only suffering from the silence of the society but also from the lack of awareness and stigma attached to it. And this becomes more painful if you are from the Queer community. I am struggling since childhood regarding my gender identity. I never came out, and thus, spent so many years living alone dealing with my thoughts and pain. These thoughts and fear made me suffer through numerous anxieties. Lastly, it dragged me to depression as I stopped feeling joy in anything. Every shred of happiness in my life started coming with a sense of fear, telling my mind that something worse is going to happen.

I started losing my confidence. In 2016, I finally decided to consult a therapist as my trauma was unbearable. I had no one to consult as “these things” are not at all welcomed in society. Living in a tire-II city further made my life miserable. I contacted a couple of therapists who refused on the pretext “We don’t do it for Gay people”. One of the therapists asked me to first conduct a hormone test to know my hormone level. I was frustrated at not getting my answers, in fact, no one was listening to my questions. I contacted this LGBTQ NGO and went there to tell them everything. The consultant handed me a couple of magazines and asked me to read, understand and figure it out on my own. I stopped even trying to reach a therapist, thereafter.

This year, I moved to a new city, a metropolitan city, and contacted a therapist. We are talking and I am feeling better. When I started my therapy, I didn’t tell my family but later I told them, and they are supportive. Though I am yet to tell them about my gender identity confusion,  they are supportive of me going for the therapy. When I told some of my colleagues about going to the therapist, their reaction described why most people in India don’t seek a cure for mental illness. One of my colleagues asked me to go to NIMHANS Bengaluru for Neuro treatment. When I explained to them that I need someone to talk to, one of the colleagues suggested: “Let’s have some drinks and tell us everything, you will feel better.”

When I told some of my colleagues about going to the therapist, their reaction described why most people in India don’t seek a cure for mental illness.

We don’t talk about mental health because of the stigma attached to it. For the society, either it is normal if someone behaves and feels the way society wants to or he is “Paagal”  (mad) and in need of electric shock treatment. There is no middle ground for mental illness in the guidebook of society. Families try to hide the mental illness and they refuse to acknowledge the same for family honour. This stigma attached to mental health makes things more complicated. We have been raised in a certain way that restricts us to talk freely. The constant fear of “Kya kahenge log” (What will people say?) pulls us back every time we dare. When I started going to the therapist, I was reluctant in revealing this to my family because I was afraid. I gave them hints at the start. I could gather the courage to tell them only after a couple of sessions. This fear of stigma needs to be brushed aside. 

Even the government is ignorant about mental illness. A couple of years ago the health ministry issued a circular, advising the public to go for regular workouts, get proper sleep, eat good food and go on vacations to counter mental illness. If only it would work and be enough.

Ask a person suffering from anxiety and he will tell you these things don’t help. The cure for mental illness starts from sharing your problem. The first thing is to admit that you have a mental illness and there is nothing wrong in going to a therapist to talk about your issues. We go to doctors when we fall ill, and we don’t shame anyone about that so why is the rule different for mental illness? Families and society need to start talking about mental illness. Hundreds of thousands of people commit suicide every year due to depression and other mental issues. India ranks amongst the top ten countries when it comes to suicide rates. We are one of the worst performers in the World Happiness Index. The situation is alarming, and we need to talk. 

Anxiety, Depression, phobia and other similar mental illnesses cannot be treated if you suggest morning walks, foods, and yoga. Do you think they have not tried? And please stop asking people to “be happy” to fight depression. They are depressed because they are not able to be happy. It is not just a usual thing; it can take lives. So, it is high time we, as a society, put an end to the stigma attached to mental illness. It can only be achieved if we talk. We need to talk. We have to talk. 

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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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