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India’s Age-Old Problem Of Sweeping Mental Illnesses Under A Rug

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“What mental health needs are more sunlight, more candour, and more unashamed conversation.” – Glenn Close.

Mental health literacy is a blooming concept these days. Many awareness campaigns and programs have been conducted by various institutes to develop an awareness about mental well-being. However, a recent survey by a West Bengal based NGO has revealed that even now, the stigma associated with mental health disorders is blatantly high.

People With Mental Disorders Are Socially Isolated Due To The Social Stigma Around Mental Health

It has been observed that even today, most families try to sweep cases of mental illness in families under the rug and associate it with the social stigma. People with mental disorders are socially isolated. They are left to suffer in the labyrinth of darkness and loneliness.

Representational Image. A recent survey by a West Bengal based NGO has revealed that even now, the stigma associated with mental health disorders is blatantly high.

“Stigma and lack of understanding about mental disorders are major barriers to seeking help and promoting better mental health”, says the World Health Organisation. Increasing awareness and conquering the stigma through proper communication is a major step in combatting the battle for mental health awareness.

Nonetheless, it seems a mammoth task as people have major mental barriers when it comes to acknowledging the importance of cognitive health. Salvaging the family prestige takes the better of many people, and they shove off mental health issues with nonchalance.

Our society has made commendable progress in the genre of technology and the digital arcade, but how much have we progressed as a civilization? In my opinion, a society that still speaks of mental illness in hushed voices can’t be called progressive. Somewhere amidst the uproar of digital India, have you forgotten about an inclusive India?

My father is a dementia patient who has been under medication since 2017. A few days back, I took him to the clinic for his routine check-up. On reaching the hospital, we came across a woman who was waiting for the paediatrician. She kept on giving cold glances to the people waiting outside the psychiatric department.

“Mental Health Awareness Should Be A Fixed Charter In The Government’s To-Do List”

Her cold stares through the prism of judgemental overtones were evident. As I was discussing with another patient the difficulties that I had to face in admitting dad to a hospital when he had developed breathing issues, that lady almost shrieked and remarked, “It must be so difficult to admit mad people in hospitals, I think they tend to run away.”

Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed by her sudden interjection. For a fraction of a second, I was confused about whether to feel bad about her ignorance or her blasphemous remarks.  I chose to ignore her as that was the best I could.

Her outrageous comments about people suffering from any mental illness continued, and as the doctor entered his chamber, she again remarked, “Look, Look, that’s the doctor for mad people and continued smirking.” Is mental health awareness just a farce for these people?

There are numerous like her who are still happily ignorant about mental health issues and think it’s a matter to be laughed at. I pity such people for their sheer ignorance. I think mental health awareness should be a fixed charter in the government’s to-do list.

The shame and blasphemy attached to mental health issues need to be eradicated. Awareness needs to be inculcated among people who still feel that cognitive disability is a matter of shame and needs to be camouflaged. “The attitudinal bias is a harrowing aspect when it comes to mental health problems”, says Dr Rajdeep Neogi, a leading psychiatrist of Kolkata.

Mental Health Is Equally Important As Physical Health

I cannot agree more with him as I have faced this at almost every step. Being a daughter to a man with dementia, judgemental overtones were an everyday affair. Till today people ask me absurd questions like “How many chances do you have of developing dementia when you grow old?”

People also said that it would be difficult for me to get a groom with a family history of mental illness. Families of certain prospects have expressed concern over making me their daughter in law as they too bore the same doubt about my mental health.

Dr Neogi further enunciates that people need to realise that mental health is equally important as physical health and mental health problems are as common as physical illness. People with mental health diseases are more scathed by society and its biases than their struggles.

Awareness about an inclusive society needs to be actively spread. Society needs to inculcate the natural aspect of differences between people.

It’s worth remembering that abled does not mean enabled, disabled does not mean less abled.

A little clemency and proper awareness can help people with cognitive disabilities live a life free from prejudices.

Featured Image Source: Canva
Image is for representation purposes only.
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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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