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Is Meerut Ready To Deal With A Looming Mental Health Crisis?

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Trigger Warning: Mention of Self-harm

Gargi, a resident of Meerut, hasn’t been to school in more than a year. She sleeps for more than 13 hours a day and the rest of the time is either spent on screen to attend online classes or scribbling homework in her notebooks.

Gargi went from being a chirpy extrovert to a quiet girl with soulless eyes and a few blade cuts on her thighs that she hopes nobody notices. She needs help but doesn’t know how to seek it.

Her father, with his humble middle class income, does not have the money to afford private therapy and the government remains ignorant towards the need for qualified clinical psychologists in public hospitals.  

A girl holding her head
Representational image.

Lack Of Mental Health Resources

Meerut is a city in Uttar Pradesh, developing in the shadow of Delhi. It is home to some prominent universities like CCS, LLRM, attracting students from nearby towns and districts. It is developing quickly and with the Delhi–Meerut Regional Rapid Transit System underway, there will soon be no stopping for this city.

The cost of this rapid urbanisation in the midst of a pandemic comes in the form of a looming mental health crisis. With an estimated population of 17.28 lakhs as per the World Review Population, Meerut only has one known clinical psychologist in accordance with DMHP.

Dr. Sanjay Kumar is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Chaudhary Charan Singh University and has been running a not-for-profit NGO, Mental Health Mission in Meerut and neighbouring towns, in the capacity of Honorary President.

Dr. Kumar shares that a non-implementation of District mental Health Program (DMHP) has proved to be hazardous in today’s time. DMHP was added in 1996 and calls for modernisation of state mental hospitals and up-gradation of psychiatric wings of medical colleges/general hospitals. 

Kamini Deshmukh and Manisha T Karia in the column, ‘Urgent need for reforms in law and policy for Mental Health in India’ explain that the objective of DMHP is to integrate basic mental health services with other health services.

It also aims to create public awareness about mental illnesses and fight against the stigma associated with it. Central to DMHP is the idea of treatment and rehabilitation of mental patients in the community through early detection and treatment. 

Dr. Sanjay Kumar attributes the onset of this crisis to the lack of an integrated mental healthcare body. According to him, the onus of mental health is put entirely on psychiatrists who have little to do with rehabilitation.

With very few hospitals having a psychiatric facility as it is, there are no psychologists to be found in most of them. He believes that the appointment of psychiatric nurses, psychiatric social workers and clinical psychologists by the government and not merely psychiatrists in Meerut hospitals can change the scenario.

Where Are The Qualifications?

The sorry state of affairs is exacerbated by the apathy of schools as they employ counsellors with minimum to no qualification only to fill in as substitute teachers instead of giving students the space to reach out for help.

The lack of a government budget allocated to cater to mental disorders and failure to utilise resources does little to fight against the stigma, especially in small cities like Meerut.

The Central and State Governments have taken no action to build rehabilitation facilities like halfway-homes despite National Mental Health Policy (NMHP), DMHP, and the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017.

With the raging pandemic, the horrors of India’s mental health epidemic have also come to the fore. It is important that both the central and state governments are pressured for more than construction and demolishment of religious institutions. Health is a right under Right to Life and it’s time we take it.

There needs to be a push to promote mental health while also making it cost-effective. Easy access to mental health professionals at primary healthcare level would give an impetus to the overall growth of the country, both emotionally as well as economically by reducing stress and anxiety.

With collective effort and enough pressure on policymakers, residents of big and small cities alike would not have to resort to extreme steps as a way out. Cities like Meerut have a long way to go in their journey to achieve overall health, but the speed must be accelerated by taking into consideration the implications of poor mental health. 

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.

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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.

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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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