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Men, Women, Young And Elderly, The Pandemic Has Affected Everyone’s Mental Health

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

Let’s talk about a topic that is seen as taboo in India, Mental Health. Talking about Mental Health in our society is akin to committing a sin. If you dare to talk about depression, stress, and anxiety, most people offer solutions like: “Just stop being sad and don’t tell anyone about this”, or worse, “It’s not a problem, just don’t think about it”.

Given this attitude towards mental health, it is not a surprise that studies indicate that around 43% of people in India suffer from some form of depression. As one would assume, most of them do not take any professional help because if you talk about visiting a psychiatrist, you are labelled as “mad”.

man looking out window
Representative Image.

At a time when there is a pandemic forcing people to stay in one place with nowhere to go to let out some stress, disturbed state of mental health of people has become an even bigger problem than before and our ignorant attitude toward it is the biggest challenge.

Data Reveals The Problem Is “Log Kya Kahenge?”

With many people depressed and in dire need of help, one might ask: why don’t we talk about it?

Log kya kahenge syndrome is what our society struggles with the most. It is a pandemic that gnaws at our social fabric. What people would think worries us more than what we feel. It reigns supreme in influencing people’s decisions. People just emphasise on physical health and tend to overlook mental health.

When it comes to mental health, the general view is having mental health issues is not “normal”. The social pressure to be “normal” manifests in an unhealthy attitude against getting help. Unfortunately, millions who suffer from mental illness are, therefore, under constant pressure to appear “normal” in public. They put on masks of happy, smiling faces and suffer inside due to the taboo around mental health.

Data compiled by IndiaSpend and WHO reveals a staggering treatment gap for all mental health disorders in India: only 10% of patients in the country get treated. In comparison, in the US, that figure is 44%. In South Korea, 82% get access to treatment.

According to surveys, there are 0.75 psychiatrists for every one lakh people in India. India has the most number of people in the world who suffer from some form of depression at some point in their lives, and yet, there are less than 4000 mental health professionals in this country.

Another report by the Indian Journal of Psychiatry states that only 15.6% of the urban and 34.4% of the rural population reported that they would like to go to a psychiatrist when they or their family members have a mental illness. Reports from World Economic Forum reveal 73% of Indians fear or are judgmental about people with mental illness, while 71% used terms associated with stigma to describe mental illness.

Why Sensitisation Towards Mental Health Is Important Now More Than Ever

Woman Working From Home
Representative Image.

With the advent of the pandemic last year, havoc has been wrecked across the world and people’s social, economic and political lives have been disrupted like never before. More than 10 crore people lost their jobs in 2020 in India.

Job loss not only gives one a financial burden to cope with but with it also comes the feeling that you are no longer a respectable person in society. Pride can take a hit when you are barely able to afford what you used to have. Self-doubt and uncertainty take a big toll on your mental health.

As for the people who fortunately still have their jobs, work from home is what many have been doing since the pandemic started. It is a stressful and depressing affair. Being locked down during a pandemic situation makes many anxious and stressed. Being in a regular office environment with a routine that keeps the mind off other things is a privilege one can no longer afford. Productivity levels drop drastically.

All these factors have made everyday activities and work very stressful and badly affected people’s mental health.

What is equally important to talk about is the toll that the pandemic has taken on the mental health of kids and young adults. The restrictions on social interaction have increased the sense of alienation among youth. Being stuck at home, not being able to meet friends or their favourite cousins who also function as a support system for these young people is disturbing.

Though online classes have become the norm in lockdown, the school experience is much more than bookish knowledge. Social interaction and sports are very important for the mental growth of kids. The same is the case for infants, many of whom have never been to school but have started their learning online, hindering the proper development of their mind.

online study anxiety
Representative Image.

The worst hit are children from underprivileged socio-economic backgrounds who cannot afford online learning. They are denied the right to education and their dreams of becoming officers are crushed because smartphones are not something they can afford.

The government not cancelling and just postponing class 12th and similar exams also brings uncertainty and mental fatigue, bringing added misery into students’ lives. This also brings forth the government’s failure in ensuring the fundamental right to education to all as it is indifferent towards the needs of those who do not have access to online education.

Many kids have also lost family members due to the deadly virus and don’t know how to cope with this loss. All in all, the children of this country are suffering gravely. Psychiatrists are warning of the pandemic’s effects on their mental health and there is nothing we as a society are doing about it.

The second wave of the pandemic has come with problems of its own. The health system of the country has collapsed and it is stressing people the most. Visuals of people not getting hospital beds, waiting outside on stretchers with family members crying beside them, people are dying due to oxygen shortage, raging Covid numbers are scaring people and can drive many into mental illness.

Adults across the world, including India, are showing a four-fold increase in anxiety and depression symptoms. Adolescents and young adults are exhibiting even higher rates of emotional distress and a marked increase in substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

It is high time we shun the taboo around mental health, take it as a serious and genuine concern and create mechanisms and institutions that help us deal with our thoughts better. Support from loved ones and the community is what we require as a nation to overcome the stigma.

Society must carve a space for a conversation on issues of burnout, exhaustion, grief and emotional management. It is the only way we can evolve as a nation that is healthier and happier.

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  1. Aayush Pratap


  2. Ridhi Sharma


  3. Pradyun Sharma

    Very important point discussed in this article.

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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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