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How To Talk To Your Teachers About Your Mental Health

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In recent times, the conversation around mental health has become more prevalent than ever. More people – celebrities, activists, athletes etc. are starting conversations around mental health in order to break the stigma surrounding it.

The common narrative is that mental health issues aren’t ‘real’, that people are faking it in order to get sympathy or that they just need to ‘suck it up’. In reality, on an average, 792 million people world wide struggle with some form of mental health issue.

264 million people worldwide suffer from depression and 284 million people with an anxiety disorder. 

The common narrative is that mental health issues aren’t ‘real’, that people are faking it in order to get sympathy or that they just need to ‘suck it up’. Representational image.

These statistics however do not present the complete picture – most people struggling with mental health issues are undiagnosed and do not receive any form of treatment.

Dire Straits And No Help

Among teenagers approximately 1 in 5 teens between ages 12 to 18 suffer from at least one form of mental health disorder yet teenage mental health and mental health support systems in schools, facilitated by teachers, is an issue that is widely looked over.

For teenagers struggling with depression or anxiety a strong sense of reinforcement at home and in school is essential.

All school going children spend a minimum of 7 hours a day in school surrounded by other students and their teachers yet less than 1%  of the children and adolescents struggling with mental health in India receive treatment due to lack of resources and awareness in schools.  

An important part of providing a support system in school is broaching the subject of mental health with teachers.

Not only do teachers serve as people from whom you learn, they’re also responsible in giving tests and grades and taking into account a student’s mental health during exam season or when an important assignment is due is an essential step in making way for a more holistic learning environment.

Students should be given the license to navigate their mental health and that can be facilitated best by the people they are surrounded by the most. 

Talking To Teachers

Being Honest

Most students are hesitant about broaching the topic of mental health with them because they’re afraid that they won’t be taken seriously or that teachers will think they’re making excuses.

In Indian classrooms, students are subjected to mind numbing pressure and unhealthy expectations, however, taking a break and specifically asking for one is important so that you don’t burn out and continue being productive in the long run. 

In Indian classrooms, students are subjected to mind numbing pressure and unhealthy expectations, however, taking a break and specifically asking for one is important. Representational image.

Emailing your professors and being honest will help them understand your circumstances better so don’t lie or make up an excuse. Ask if you can meet with them to discuss your missed classes or assignments and how you can make up.

Work with them to come up with a plan in case they have specific requirements or accommodations in mind.  

Vulnerability Is Okay

Another common reason why students find it difficult to bring up the topic of mental health with their professors is because they are unsure of whether it’s appropriate in a professional setting.

After all, your teachers aren’t your friends, is it okay to talk about your personal issues with them?

Being honest about your mental health and being vulnerable is okay as long as you go about it in the right way. Start by writing an email to your professor outlining the mental health issue you’re struggling with.

You can also make a request to meet separately with them so that you can explain your situation to them in person. Only bring up what you are comfortable with sharing and suggest what they can do to accommodate your needs better. 

Importance Of Accountability

It is also important to take accountability for your actions. Teachers appreciate it when students take responsibility. Asking for a break is perfect as long as you make it known that you’re willing and eager to cover up any missed work at the earliest possible convenience.

Keep checking in with your professor as the term progresses in case you fall behind again so that they’re aware of what’s happening at your end and can continue assisting you in whatever way they can.

Communicate Your Boundaries 

In a classroom with more than 40-50 students it can get tricky for a teacher to balance every student’s needs and make sure what they’re teaching gets through to everyone. Oftentimes while discussing a certain topic, your teacher may stray into territory or topics which may trigger you.

To prevent that, make sure you are clear on what your triggers are, what conversations you are comfortable listening or being a part of and which ones you would like to sit out,” a teacher at the J.B. Petit High School told YKA.

Make a list and at the start of the term talk to your teacher and explain to them that you’d like the leeway to step out of class or take a small break and come back once they’re done with the discussion. 

Take The First Step

The most important point however, out of all of these is to take the first step. Teachers do not always intuitively cater to the needs of their students, so it’s important to take up space in order to receive what you need, as daunting as the prospect may sound.

Raise your voice and make your request with confidence because you deserve a more equitable system of learning and when you aren’t provided with one it’s important to create one for yourself in whatever way you can. 

Raise your voice and make your request with confidence because you deserve a more equitable system of learning. Representational image.

A conversation with the student counselor at The J.B Petit High School revealed that throughout the formative school years, the common misconception leading to an overlooking of adolescent mental health is that children are supposed to be resilient.

Frequent phrases like, ‘My childhood was so carefree’ and ‘I wish I could go back to being a child’ communicate the expectation that your childhood should also be carefree and happy.

However, the resilience it takes to be a ‘carefree’ teenager in the 21st century comes at an internal cost very few are willing to acknowledge, giving root to the stigma surrounding mental health,” they stressed further.

The tips in this guide are not meant to be set in stone and may not be universally applicable as there will always be intolerant teachers who refuse to hold space for your needs.

However, by raising more awareness around us, having more conversations and treating mental health issues with empathy we can take the small steps necessary to create more accessible and equitable mental health support systems. 

The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program
Featured image is for representational 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 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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