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Did COVID Worsen Work, Love And Mental Health For The Marginalised? I Find Out

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Each year, the month of July is observed as the National Minority Mental Health Month in the USA. This is done to raise awareness about the unique mental health stressors faced by racial and ethnic minorities living in a white supremacist nation.

Taking a leaf out of America’s book, I reached out to some Indians from marginalised communities, to understand the nature of their mental health struggles. More importantly, I also wanted to shed some light on the resilience of these people. 

Representational image.

Being a trans person myself, I am aware of the fact that there is a higher prevalence of mental disorders among the LGBTQIA+ population when compared to non-queer folks. This is not to say that non-minorities don’t deal with mental health issues, but to recognise that minorities have to deal with an added layer of discrimination when it comes to their mental well being.

What Is Minority Stress?

The term “minority stress refers to the stress that arises out of a hostile social environment. This stressful environment is created as a direct result of stigma, prejudice and discrimination against members of minority communities.

Jaimine, a 31-year-old professor from Mumbai and a Bahujan person, opened up about the online abuse he faced during the pandemic. “I was doxxed as recently as June 2021. I was quite disturbed and my self-confidence took a hit when I went through some of the casteist slurs hurled at me and at Dr BR Ambedkar. There was a barrage of abhorrent messages from saffronised trollers.”

Jaimine added that his “caste and political identity could not escape the matrix of social apathy, even during the pandemic.”

Hustle Culture Is Harmful

Mental health concerns have only gotten aggravated during the pandemic, as people tried to maintain a healthy work-life balance while dealing with the uncertainty of a global health crisis.

Wanting to remain anonymous, a 28-year-old communications professional knows about the woes of working from home (WFH) all too well.

“The pandemic has meant that work and home have become the same space for me. While I recognise that being able to WFH is a privilege in itself, this has been very challenging for me as a neurodivergent person. I need a clear distinction between both the spaces to function smoothly.”

Sweta Mantrii is a 31-year-old writer and comic from Pune. Mantrii has spina bifida by birth and this means that she walks with the help of a caliper and crutches.

“When you’re a person living with a disability, you not only deal with the limitations of your own body and limitations of the infrastructure, but you also deal with the limitations of other people’s attitude… Living with a disability leaves you with immense self-doubt, less or almost no confidence, and in a bad mental space. You’re always made to feel that you just aren’t good enough,” she rued.

Jaimine has been having a hard time dealing with hustle culture, too. Not only have his sleeping hours been affected, but he also suffers from a situational backache now. “I feel like an ATM (any time mazdoor) who has to attend meetings, calls, excel sheets, etc. at any point of time. The work sphere does not take the mental health of employees into consideration because sab changa si!“, he lamented.

Mental health concerns have only gotten aggravated during the pandemic, as people tried to maintain a healthy work-life balance while dealing with the uncertainty of a global health crisis. Representational image.

Love In The Time Of Corona

It is important to note that there is more to life than work. As the old adage goes: ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’

So, what about love?

Anonymous said that their social life is almost non-existent now. “Meeting new people was tough for me to begin with, owing to my neurodivergence. Every time you meet someone, you have to get used to all the strangely unique things which make them, them. This can get quite overwhelming. Meeting new people has become doubly tough now. How is one supposed to find the time for love?” they questioned. Anonymous has resorted to talking to their ex-lovers during the pandemic because of the ease that familiarity allows.

Seeking Therapy Helps

Given that life has become tougher for everyone, especially for those from marginalised communities, how does one cope?

Mantrii opted for online therapy. “I am so grateful to my therapist… who helped me understand the larger narrative of my life and disentangle my emotional mess.” Attending a therapy session in person is a tall ask. Mantrii elaborated, “If not for online therapy, I would have been stuck in the same space. I can’t even begin to imagine how someone in a wheelchair or with a visual impairment can think of availing therapy with the current infrastructure!”

While those who can and wish to seek therapy, should seek therapy, it is not accessible to everyone. As Jaimine explained, “Mental health therapies are not affordable because the design of assistance is not laid out for the underprivileged castes and classes. In the Indian context, the caste and class dimensions intersect with each other such that therapy is totally beyond the reach of those located in the lower stratas of this graded hierarchy.”

The 31-year-old has embraced Buddhism. Using Buddhist wisdom, such as practising mindfulness, is one of the ways in which he copes with stressors like toxic family members. Jaimine has also started ignoring “useless official meetings”. He calls it his new superpower.

Anonymous, on the other hand, has sought out community during the pandemic and draws a lot of strength from there. “I am a part of a disabled support group. Engaging with other folks on the spectrum has been extremely empowering. It might sound like a cliché, but having a supportive community has really changed my life, my relationship with myself and my body,” they asserted.

Anonymous, Jaimine, Mantrii and I are only four out of thousands of vulnerable people from marginalised communities, who need extra support to safeguard our mental well-being. India has lakhs of people who are dealing with mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety. We need to acknowledge the gravity of the problem before we think about dealing with the mental health pandemic head-on.

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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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