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Mental Health: The Hidden Pandemic In Our Universities

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

Fatigued, frustrated, disgusted….That is the state I am in at present. I pen this down at the end of the day with the sheer fatigue of six continuous online lectures with two hours of coaching classes amounting to a total of eight long hours of online classes in a day. This is at a stage when many of my close relatives are affected by covid and I lay couped up in a small room, glued in my own virtual world. This is not my story alone, this is the story of millions and millions of young minds who have to undergo this almost imposed torture every day with absolute disregard for the circumstances that we are living in today.

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Hours of online classes leave students fatigued.

Crude, shocking, and apathetic, isn’t it? That is exactly the string of adjectives that befit this imbroglio. The absolute insensitivity of the University administrations and the sheer reluctance with which it is treating both its staff and students in the hour of an unprecedented pandemic is unimaginable, unfortunate, and highly abominable. This constant pressure of the course and the rush of deadlines have failed to obscure the gravity of the psychological state of the students and the staff, reducing the issue of stakeholders’ welfare to absolute rhetoric.

Apathy Of The Administration

Imagine continuing to be bogged down by the upcoming semester exams when one of your closest kin has just passed away, imagine juggling between part-time jobs and online classes to secure the financial security of the family, imagine millions of such dire conditions of students suffering mutedly in myriad circumstances without any hope for redressal. This further starkens the apathy of the education sector and its failure to ameliorate its main beneficiaries’ interests, leading to more stress and deteriorating mental health.

Ananki Banerjee, a first-year student at Heritage College, Kolkata, reveals, “My college is considerate enough to excuse any student if he/she or if any of their family members are suffering from Covid (provided we mail to the authorities regarding our problem with a proper Medical Test Report). This is indeed a good measure but what about the others who are not in the mental state to continue with the regular work? Who has lost someone close? Everything does not happen after testing positive right! And many of us are not able to express what we are going through because there is no one to listen or even to understand.

Moreover, the intersectional nature of oppression and mental harassment and torment that one goes through further deepens the malice of an already disparate education sector. A Down to Earth survey of 2019 shows that female students were 1.83 times more likely than male students to indicate problems associated with mental health. Additionally, the multifaceted challenges of caste and economic backgrounds cumulatively worsen the psychological space of the stakeholder because of their vulnerability across several fronts.

Financial insecurities due to massive job losses as well as family issues have an endearing impact on the minds of the students especially in these times when they are compelled to spend considerable time near their family members. Hence, if the family atmosphere is obnoxious, oppressive, and unstable, its plight on the students is reverberated prominently, compounded by their online fatigue. Swastika Ghatak, a first-year student of the Bhawanipore Education Society recounts, “It sometimes gets really exhausting.. with all these online classes, not being able to talk to anyone or see anyone, no smile on any faces, losing loved ones, family issues, etc. These things are sometimes mentally enervating.

Sohini Chandra, who is currently pursuing Biotechnology from SRM University Chennai says, “Mental health is really getting affected in this pandemic. We, the students have to cope up with it because no one else will understand what we are going through. Right now my semester exams have started, so it is already a big headache for me. Along with it, I’m also saddened by the devastating news around. It is quite difficult to concentrate on studies these days. The professors of my college try their best to teach even in these trying times and even if they ask us to attend class apart from our normal class timings, we try to cooperate with them.

A Lack Of Mental Health Resources

Another crucial aspect that comes to the fore here is the paucity of access to mental health resources even in these tenuous circumstances plaguing our universities. Though few colleges have been taking a few measures to allay this problem by the provision of free online counselors like St Xavier’s College(Autonomous) Kolkata while some other institutions have started regular online mental well-being therapies like that of Bhawanipore Education Society.

But the harrowing disparity in its access remains largely engulfed and unbridged. In such scenarios, several individuals, societies, and independent associations have taken the lead in reaching out to stressed-out students in accessing mental health resources through online platforms like Instagram and Facebook. Organizations like Girl Up Saarthi and  Global Youth among many others have gone further to conduct sessions with therapists and psychologists to ease this tremendous distress. A very recent initiative undertaken by LSR is the LSR-RAHAT where students can discuss both academic and socio-economic issues with the faculty members.

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For professors, the shift from their traditional classroom method to the online arena has been a hard paradigm shift.

The Teaching Faculty Is Suffering Too

The excessive burden on the faculty too with this paradigm shift to virtual education has taken a very severe toll on their mental health, especially when their close relatives started getting affected. One of the former Sociology professors of DU, who preferred to remain anonymous confessed, “I mean as a teacher my experience through this pandemic, like most people out there have been mediated by the 14-inch screen of the laptop where I’ve spent most of my time in past one and a half years. I would say that it has taken a very heavy toll on my mental health; the constant overflow of information on the virus in social media, lack of human touch in my everyday interactions with students, peers, and even strangers for that matter, everything has just contributed to the recurring bouts of anxiety I was already suffering from.

Thus it can be easily surmised in retrospect that the state of mental health has absolutely reached its nadir in the light of the bourgeoning pressure of the curriculum on the students and the faculty at varying levels with additional factors often intersecting at cross ends. This is further complicated by the transgression of a severe Covid-19 wave that has reduced the very purpose of education to mere rhetoric.

The grappling situations under which the stakeholders are living are absolutely uncalled for. Lastly, I would like to conclude with the hope that henceforth I might be able to put my pen to paper with the blossoming home of a teenager and not be drawn into this drudgery of psychological torment!

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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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