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“It Hits Me Like A Rock When Influential People Like Kangana Mock Mental Health”

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We are living in the year 2020. India is quite ahead in the race of developing countries after overcoming many outdated social norms and taboos. But one thing that still remains the same throughout the years is the taboo regarding mental illness.

In these tough times of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance to recognize mental health and showing empathy towards the people who are facing it increases many folds.

However, it takes us decades when a person of significant stature who can imprint the minds of millions of people, decides to make insensitive remarks about this, instead of getting rid of taboo. The aforementioned person is our beloved Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut leaving no stone unturned in mocking depression.

On Wednesday 18th Nov 2020, Kangana Ranaut wrote to illustrator Priyanka Paul on Twitter who tried to spread the message that falling apart on days or having burnout is completely normal. Priyanka said she had meltdowns, had broken down in public, self-harmed, and lied about how she felt.

Kangana Ranaut wrote to Priyanka Paul, “Look at yourself, why don’t you take anything? You’re toxic, suicidal, sometimes creepy and this is just the beginning. Instead of lecturing me, you should probably take my advice. Change your hairstyle and start meditating.”

Not too long ago, Kangana had tweeted another one of her misguided opinions on mental illnesses which goes something like, “There is no valid medical proof of mental illness. Can MRI scans show bipolar and other psychological illnesses?”  

Earlier, she had attacked Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone who is a depression survivor. Kangana in an interview criticized Deepika Padukone for having depression suddenly in 2015 because she was dumped by her boyfriend 8-year ago. However, Deepika Padukone never revealed the reason behind her depression.

According to Kangana, Deepika was doing good work back then, she was attending functions and her professional commitments. So how can she have depression? That particular statement was insensitive and misleading. She termed Deepika’s mental health awareness campaign as “depression dhanda” (business).

According to an ICMR study,  Health Organisation(WHO), one in seven Indians suffer from poor mental health. India has been declared as one of the most depressed countries in the year 2018-19 data.

In the times of this pandemic, there are hundreds and thousands of people in India, myself included, who are facing anxiety and depression because COVID-19 has put our career to a halt, many have lost jobs and are facing financial problems.

It hits me like a rock when influential people like Kangana mock mental health issues.

We all know that in India, people with mental illnesses won’t come out easily to seek help because Indian society does not treat them well and they don’t get the kind of support they want. Kangana must understand that her remarks on mental health will only push vulnerable individuals into dark isolation.

It is a well-known fact that social stigma and the use of language for sufferers plays a major role that affects treatment. Stereotypes that ‘depression is your karma’ cause all the people to stay silent and they don’t seek help which sometimes even leads to drastic steps like them taking their life.

In the recent event of the death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput, people were ready to believe that Rhea Chokorobarty did black magic but no one was wanting to accept that it could be depression. However, his case is under investigation and nothing has come out yet. But what is sad is that people refuse to understand and believe that a person having a good social life, who goes out, laughs can not suffer from depression.

In another instance, I checked a few accounts of people who work in the field of mental health awareness including Deepika Padukone. It was so shocking and saddening for me to see how thousands of people commented under her post with supremely insensitive remarks. All this started to happen after Kangana started attacking her. This shows how much Indians care about mental health or illness.

People like Kangana who can influence the public should understand that their misleading comments about depression can put all the efforts of mental health experts in the drain. Normalizing mental illness is the need of the hour, especially during this pandemic where thousands of people are suffering from anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.

We Indians consider our country as a developing nation that has overcome many social evils and taboo. But when it comes to mental health, there is a long way to go and people like Miss Ranaut make it even more difficult for those who are suffering and want to come out but can not because of the fear.

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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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