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It Is Time We Choose Empathy And Compassion Over Mental Health Stigma

Let’s admit it, people in today’s world still have irrational and unfounded views about mental illness. Well, everyone knows that mental health still remains a stigma in our society, just like having periods and being queer, no? Yes, we do talk about it, but what if someone from your friend circle or family faces a mental health issue. Will you accept it, or say “Arre tum zyada soch rahe ho, kuch din mein thik ho jayega? (You are overthinking, give it a few days, it will get better)” To us, it might just be overthinking, but to the person who is facing this, it might be watching their whole life crash or tumble from a cliff.

People in our society often label them as a psycho, maniac, lunatic and words that are really harsh. We aren’t helping them in any way by saying all this. Instead, we are pushing them towards the edge of a cliff and forcing them to jump. All we are doing is just increasing the stigma around us. It is not a shameful thing to have mental health issues. It is just like another issue that any other part of your body may face. Why do we create so much negativity about it?

We make them build walls around themselves. Why do we make them feel embarrassed or shameful and look at them like they have committed a crime? We make them lose out on the social support that they need. Why does talking about mental health make us uncomfortable? There are, in fact, a large number of people facing mental health issues, surprising isn’t it? A person can still face mental illness without experiencing sadness; depression isn’t the only mental health disorder.

We must try and do our part to ease the difficulties people face. 

Everyone in the world can face mental health issues; it could be a singer, actor or a celebrity. We should thank Bollywood for creating such a negative image of people with illnesses, that they are considered anti-social, aggressive or and frightening. It’s time now to talk about mental health openly rather than running away from it.

People who face all these issues avoid talking about them. Do you know why? Because they feel they are inviting trouble for themselves. Well, in a way, they are correct because we have spoken shit out of mouth, haven’t we? “Yaar tum toh defective piece ho (You are a defective piece)” or “Aisa kuch nahi hota (There is nothing like this) is what we say.

Such insensitive stigmatisation and stereotyping make them feel worse. We need more of these stigma busters. Stigma is a word no one understands well enough. It’s deeper than the beliefs people are conscious of. Discrimination is not only related to race, gender or religious belief.

Ignorance about mental illness causes isolation and prevents sufferers from living life to the full. One in four people will have mental health problems at some point in their life, but many more have a problem with that. When people cannot distinguish the difference between mental illness and learning disabilities, it’s disheartening. The more the stigmas, the fewer people will seek help. That is not accurate. Stigma is unquestionably still a significant issue. And we should avoid discriminating.

Individuals actually need to make a concerted attempt to do something about dealing with preconceived notions. Let’s take a look at several things that hardly take any effort to make life less difficult for an individual, especially when the life of that person is already more challenging than it should be. Rather than adding on to their issues and making their lives harder, we must try and do our part to ease the difficulties people face. Let’s make a difference. Be it in general, at the workplace, with friends or family.

silhouette of three people jumping in the air
Recognise things for what they really are, rather than looking at them based on your own opinion.
  • Recognise things for what they really are, rather than looking at them based on your own opinion.
  • Do not neglect the things you are saying and doing with regard to how they affect the lives of another person.
  • Stop letting media manipulate your personal view, particularly by using biased or one-sided views.
  • You ought not to turn a patient’s mental illness into a joke and the serious problems that come with it.
  • Don’t leave them feeling like they’re a crappy person to deal with. Don’t beat them down for wanting help.
  • Help them, rather than treating them as if they are a burden or simply want attention.
  • Please stop judging your colleagues if they have an appointment with their therapist.
  • Be compassionate.

 

When coping with a mental or physical disorder, a person should not have to feel bad or guilty. Respect your employees and colleagues if someone in your workplace expresses that they have been denigrated because of a work colleague. Treat it no differently than someone who discriminates against a person based on their gender or colour. When anyone wants items that have been explained more than once or explained in another way, don’t try to abandon them or make them feel dumb. Explain it so they understand, rather than threatening them.

Help your child understand and navigate through mental health. Think of what you’re doing to make their lives simpler and also what you’re doing to make their lives tougher. Don’t make them feel like they’re a burden. Do things to help build up your child so others won’t be able to break them down. Respect their limits. Don’t make them feel bad or guilty for needing medication.

Mental disorders are not deficiencies of character; they are legitimate medical conditions. Discrimination is a difference based on race, religion, ethnicity, and yes, mental illness. For some reason, our society shows more hopelessness to mental health issues than empathy, which is something we should be ashamed of, especially when the life of a person is perceived with so little value. We should be ashamed that we cannot see beyond our own unempathetic opinions.

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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.

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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.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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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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