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Minding Minds: Is This Lockdown Adding More To Mental Health Issues?

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The human mind is the most beautiful and complex thing in the body that has enormous capabilities. If these capabilities work in your favor, life becomes fantastic. But if they work against you, there is no escape.

When we refer to mental health, we mean the cognitive, behavioral and emotional well-being of an individual. It’s all about how people think, feel and behave. People sometimes use the term “mental health” to mean the absence of a mental disorder.

Mental health can affect daily our living, relationships and physical health. There is no physical test or scan that reliably indicates whether a person has developed a mental illness or not. The signs and symptoms shown by an individual are the only indicators to understand mental health issues.

According to WHO, “Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes their own abilities, can cope with the normal stress of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

Depression And Anxiety Are A Form Of Mental Health Issues:

Many people think that individuals with anxiety or depression can wake up one day and decide to “get better”. That we can wake up one day and decide to “smile, chug coffee and deal with it.”

As a writer, I’m sorry to burst your bubble but anxiety isn’t something that we can just “turn off”. It isn’t something that we can choose to have on a Monday and choose to not have on a Sunday. It isn’t a decision. It isn’t a voluntary thing that we want to have in our lives, day in and day out. It isn’t a choice.

Some days, we are free from it. We think we are in the clear and maybe it will be gone for good. But it creeps up when we aren’t looking. It shows up in the darkest corners of our minds. It jumps out in front of us right when we are getting comfortable. It shocks us to the core over and over again, without any warning.

We can’t just “choose to be happy”. We can’t just “chill out” or “smoke a joint and relax.”

Anxiety doesn’t have a pause button in our minds. Depression doesn’t have a shut off button in our brains. And they most definitely don’t have any eject buttons.

The worst part is when we try sharing a moment or any terrible experience people start building up judgements and generalizing things. People need to stop judging. Anxiety is as real as the stars and moon. We will never know how it feels unless we spend a day in others’ shoes and in others’ minds.

We will never know how it feels to be plagued with a dark cloud that follows us around all the time. And we will never know how it feels to fear for our life, to constantly be in panic and be filled with “what if’s?”

Before you try to make others feel better by telling them to “chill”, please remember that anxiety is a mental illness. Depression is a mental illness. Not an outlook of life. Not a “stage” we are going to get out of.

Believe me, if we wanted to we would relax and chill. We would stop our thoughts from entering dangerous territories. We would “take a chill pill”, if we could. If we had the ability to, we would do it as fast as we could. But every mind has its own time clock to heal. Some are quicker and some take really long.

There is always a sense of helplessness with those who experience anxiety and depression no matter how many support systems are built around them. It’s a result of all the stressors such as trauma, shock, loss, being betrayed or hurt.

Anxiety and depression are often associated with grief. At some point in everyone’s life, there will be at least one encounter with grief. It may be from the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the end of a relationship or any other change that alters life.

Grief is also very personal. It’s not very neat or linear. It doesn’t follow any timelines or schedules. You may cry, become angry, withdraw and feel empty. None of these things are unusual or wrong.

Everyone grieves differently, but there are some commonalities in the stages and the order of feelings experienced during grief. The five stages of grief are:

Not everyone experiences all five stages, and you may not go through them in this order. Grief is different for every person, so we may begin coping with loss in the bargaining stage and find ourselves in anger or denial next. We may remain for months in one of the five stages but skip others entirely.

We need to understand that mental illness is invisible, what we see is not equal to what others feel. A person can be depressed and crack jokes. One can have anxiety but still appear confident. And similarly, one can be suicidal but still appear to be in control.

People don’t fake mental illnesses, they fake being “okay”. They smile when they are going through hell. Most of the time, they only say “I am busy” when they need to take time to cope with severe symptoms. They work hard and uphold their responsibilities all while appearing fine.

They are often the funny or caring one in any friendship. If something appears wrong they just say “I am tired” to not arouse suspicion.

Everyone talks about belief and keeping trust because that’s how the world works. But nobody tells us what to do when someone breaks our trust.

Most of the time in many different cultures, girls are asked to keep quiet, “Chup Raho“, and move on or forget whatever has happened. I don’t understand why we always fear truth, why we can’t accept the truth when we know that truth has a power of its own.

But we keep believing that if we ignore, things will improve. But the reality is we pass through this beast of burdens of infinite truth that is unspoken. We slip deep into more stress somewhere, guarding us subconsciously, till it turns out to take a form of depression, anxiety, grief or pain.

From my personal experiences, pain is inevitable, but misery is optional. Either we cry our whole lives and play the victim or accept the situation, struggle with it and become a survivor.

Thus, the option is easy, either be a victim or a survivor.

Polarity Between Mind, Body And Soul:

It’s a highly competitive world and people are placed under a lot of stress and pressure, especially during this pandemic.

Life is conducted at a fast pace, and as a result, the soul, mind and body are not in balance. As time passes by, more people are starting to suffer from disorders like stress, anxiety, depression, fear of the future, boredom, low confidence and are unhappy in their lives.

To stem this darkening cloud that is threatening humanity, it’s time that people start to recognise and connect with their inner guidance system. As humans, we are sometimes afraid to do what we want to do.

We are concerned that money and opulence will be problematic if not managed well; we are worried over what others may think, like to stay in the status quo and often don’t live our truth which makes us feel more vulnerable in our everyday cycle.

When something bad happens to us or when something hurts us and affects our mind, body and soul, we can either become wise or be wounded by the episode/event that occurred. There is always a choice we have.

This life has a certain amount of time which is ticking away in its own way, where time carries every experience as a feeling or a memory, and for the sake of our well-being, we can make it our own wisdom.

In our systems of teaching education we have done nothing as we are busy studying plants, trees, chemistry, physics and planets and everything, but have paid no attention towards nature or what changes are happening around us.

We always forget that change is the only constant which needs to be observed.

This happens because we don’t know how to use our faculties. The greatest faculties we have as human beings are the vivid sense of memories of everything that has happened as if it’s alive right now. They are archived in our mind and can be replayed.

But then it would be a problem if we have a painful past and start suffering because of past moments, or maybe the next moment.

This is basically because we have not taught our children and people to employ their faculties; how to use our memories, our imagination and how to experience things.

Our whole life is happening between three dimensions: memories, present experience and imagination.

All our experiences are happening, but if we lose distinction between what is past, present and future then everything terrible may keep occurring.

People think if they are suffering, they have stepped out of their box; but it’s not like that. It’s insane because in reality, our suffering doesn’t exist. We are not suffering from what is happening right now; we are suffering due to what happened in our past.

By this, our own intelligence is consuming ourselves, and we call it stress, anxiety, fear, pain, suffering and a lot more. Our own intelligence has turned against us. Instead, if our intelligence kept working for us and would have taken instructions positively, it would have been bliss.

But since reality is different, we start carrying the unwanted things that have happened or should not have happened as badges in our lives, creating an unwanted imbalance between mind, body and soul.

To maintain equilibrium of harmony between soul, mind and body, we have to understand:

How Lockdown Elevated Mental Health Issues:  

Time is racing, and so is the rate at which the coronavirus pandemic is affecting millions of people globally. The situation is becoming more critical day by day with all the news coming in from social media, televisions, family, friends and other sources.

Hence, the most common emotion that comes is fear and anxiety, resulting in more stress. As we don’t know what will happen next, there is a tremendous amount of curiosity and anxiousness rising in each of us because we have been restricted.

Adding to this is the prolonged lockdown. For many, this lockdown might have brought opportunities to see friends and resume contact with family or do the work which they value. But for others, there is a lot more agony, fear, isolation, irregular routine, sleep deprivation, anxiety, financial crisis and instability resulting in an increase in mental health issues.

Many of us fear becoming ill with the virus or passing the infection on to loved ones as the risk increases when people interact.

This is an entirely normal response; every time we go back to something it’s going to feel unusual or even scary. We might feel nervous or anxious.

That may be because we haven’t done it in a while and we’ve forgotten how it feels — like going to work or following our regular routines.

It’s important to acknowledge that these feelings are reasonable.

If we hold on to things, we can get pulled into rumination — where we chew over things in our heads, thus, affecting the equilibrium in our systems.

It might take longer to adjust to necessary changes being locked up in our homes, might be troublesome at some point, but there are always ways through which we don’t harm our mental health altogether.

We can control what can be controlled, take things at our own pace, but try and challenge ourselves to try something different each day or for a couple of days and build up tolerance.

There has been a lot of talk of a “new normal” — but the normal is changing, and uncertainty and managing risks is going to be the reality for the foreseeable future.

This is not something that’s comfortable for many of us, particularly when we’re only just about coping with our mental health. To cope with this situation, where mental health actually matters, it’s important to build a routine that involves a sleep pattern, proper nutrition and diet and regular exercise, yoga or meditation.

Only then can we build our resilience to cope with mental health issues. Having solid mental health doesn’t mean that you never go through bad times or experience emotional problems, especially when we are all facing this lockdown.

We all go through disappointments, loss and change. And while this is a normal part of life, they can still cause sadness, anxiety and stress.

But just as physically healthy people are better able to bounce back from illnesses or injuries, people with strong mental health are better able to bounce back from adversity, trauma and stress.

This ability is called resilience. People who are emotionally and mentally resilient have the tools to cope with difficult situations and maintain a positive outlook. They remain focused, flexible and productive in bad times as well.

Their resilience also makes them less afraid of new experiences or an uncertain future. Even when they don’t immediately know how a problem will get resolved they are hopeful that a solution will eventually be found.

A Power Booster For Good Mental Health:

Mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety don’t have universal appearances. Some cry often, others can’t feel anything. Some struggle to get out of bed, others don’t. Some neglect self-care, others put extra effort to look better.

Similarly, some need to sleep long hours and others can’t sleep at all. It becomes important that we don’t rush to judge one’s struggles. The purpose to emphasise is that depression and anxiety are not universal, rather a general cluster of symptoms and they manifest differently in everyone.

Depression doesn’t always jump out at you and let you know that there’s a person who is hurting deeply. So it’s important to raise awareness about the issues rather than contributing to its stigmatization.

There are a lot of myths about depression and anxiety. People think the causes of depression are weakness, laziness or an inability to “suck it up”. What actually causes depression is trauma, abuse, neglect, bullying, lack of social support, low self-esteem, body image issues, grief or loss, lack of fulfillment and many other lifestyle factors.

Depression is a very complicated illness.

There is no simple solution that allows one to just “snap out of it”. To work on our emotions, we need to understand the cycle of control.

If we understand the things we can control and the things which are beyond our control, life will become simpler.

There are also certain things that we need to take care of while we communicate to a person suffering from mental health issues. If any statement makes the sufferer feel more misunderstood, alienated and guilty for experiencing symptoms, there will be a decline in good mental health.

To have good mental well-being it’s important to have a self-checklist to demarcate the feelings of how “I feel” and how “I need to feel”.

Once we are done with this checklist, we automatically start the process of building our own resilience.

Hence, it’s important for us to remember mental health is real, it’s something to prioritize, often invisible, and it’s as important as physical health.

Mental health is not about someone being judged, just one emotion, easy to manage or just in our minds.

Also, there is nothing wrong in taking help from friends, family or even a therapist. We may be seeking clarity in some areas of life, wanting to work through complex emotions, working over traumatic experiences, challenging negative thinking patterns, learning to cope with difficult situations and focus on personal growth.

Once we start this, our overall physical and mental well-being starts rejuvenating, the process of resilience building starts here.

While writing down this article, a storm of infinite thoughts were actually going through my mind which were stopping me from understanding what was actually affecting me.

Was it this prolonged lockdown which restricted me from performing my daily activities or the crisis situation that arose in my relationships with my near and dear ones?

In the midst of all this, I eventually realized it’s my mind which is actually affecting me, making me think about all the unwanted thoughts, the issues related to my life, my future and the people around me.

Thus, the very thought of how my mental health is getting worse and the reason why I was undergoing from an immense pressure from thoughts which are inconsequential and worthless made me write this article with the belief that “mental health does matter”.

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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 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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