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Yes, The Pandemic Has Affected Our Mental Health, But It’s Not The Same For All

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Covid-19, considered to be the biggest pandemic since the 1918 Spanish flu, has infected nearly 1.8 million people and has brought the global economy to a virtual standstill.  In order to control the virus, countries have implemented shutdowns, lockdowns, and have imposed restrictions on their movements, forcing millions of people to work from home, using webinars and online meetings.

A year ago, a lot of companies were still doubting the ‘work-from-home’ concept and questioned their employees’ motivation and morale for that model. But today, work-from-home is a stand-alone success and is a worldwide reality. However, there is still a lot of work to be done mostly for the smaller companies who can afford the lower investment and also lower overheads.

Workplaces are no longer confined to select localities or places which are prominent office spaces and neighbourhoods. I strongly feel companies are going to divest and instead invest in remote working technology. And, with that, extend their ability to reach out to many towns and cities to create a cosmopolitan environment and a more prestigious and dynamic working culture.

man siting on laptop at his home
Representational image. Workplaces are no longer confined to select localities or places which are prominent office spaces and neighbourhoods.

While most older people of the present generation have greater health risks from COVID-19, It also has brought younger people in its purview and those who are struggling emotionally. According to studies from various parts of Europe, Spain, China, and Slovenia including India, younger people tend to be more depressed, worried, helpless, anxious, stressed, and traumatized in the era of COVID-19. The same is true for women, who may also be more lonely and forced to be dependent.

It is speculated that women tend to have worse mental health in general, and certain stressors right now—like the added burden of caregiving, taking care of other members of the families, and the risk of losing jobs—may fall more heavily on women.

For younger people, it could be the disruptions to their regular routines and schedules that are to blame, more so for college students who have had to adjust to online schooling. In studies across both China, United States, and India, it has been observed and well thought that the more the pandemic was affecting people’s daily lives, the more stressful and anxious they felt.

Personality also influences the way we react in tough times.  There are two related traits that surface more so during the pandemic and will be put to test which will be to tolerate uncertainty and our ability to tolerate distress. While it’s hard to know the unknown, some people are less comfortable with it than others. And right now, it’s those people who seem to be more distressed,  feeling more lonely, feeling more afraid, and experiencing more depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

In studies across the world, researchers investigated what else might be the percussions and repercussions thereby making the people of disadvantaged groups vulnerable to mental health problems during the pandemic. They have found out a few key factors that will put people at risk.

Representational image. Indian doctors wait in an area set aside for possible COVID-19 patients at a free screening camp at a government run homeopathic hospital in New Delhi, India, Friday, March 13, 2020. The camp is part of the government’s surveillance for fever and other symptoms related to the coronavirus. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

For one, people with poor health or chronic diseases tend to have higher symptoms of stress, anxiety, worry, depression, and PTSD, several studies found. Of course, this might be because of the fact that these are also the people with greater health risks from COVID-19. You also have people frustrated by physical frailties, handicapped, or disabilities of a thousand kinds—by financial problems, loans,  by the property issues by geographical barriers, by legal restrictions, by family considerations.

Emphasis on your income and education matter, too. The less stable your income and the less educated you are, studies suggest, the more worry, anxiety, social rejection, avoidance, isolation, depression, and stress you will experience. The pandemic is threatening the economy,  from all parts of the world affecting everyone’s financial future, the future seems to be bleak and the situation is worse for people who were already struggling. In a very real sense, of the term, we’re not all in the same boat.

In situations like this, we can’t self-improve our way out of the pain and difficulty. What we’re going through right now is trauma, social rejection, depression, or at least a major stressor on a global scale. This is one of those precarious times when life really is harder by little or a lot, depending on your situation. Feeling bad is part of being human—and right now, that’s something many of us need to face, even as we work to feel better, stay connected, and help others.

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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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