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Does The Mental Health Discourse Need To Consolidate Feminist Politics?

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Mental health is one of the most essential but neglected human developmental issues. The growing effort of feminist consciousness in prioritising mental health on the international community or national level makes it possible to implement strategical interventions to reduce inequalities in access to health. It provides a holistic approach to mental health that should be a priority.

Mental Well-being has been included in the broad definition of health by the World Health Organisation (WHO), “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” (WHO 2001, p.1)

Mental health is not simply quoted in the acronym for the absence of disease, but a state of general well-being, influenced by culture, related to enjoying life, coping with stress, overcoming sadness to achieve goals, and maintaining healthy relationships with a positive attitude.

mental stress
Representative Image.

Mental health has been neglected for centuries. It is an inclusive and positive concept of the social and emotional well-being of individuals and communities that reflects a holistic vision of health. Various factors, including biological, psychological, social and environmental effects on mental health, constitute the broad scope of well-being. They interact in complex ways.

  1. The structural factors include protective, safe and secure environments, employment, education, freedom from the discrimination of violence and access to resources.
  2. Community factors like belongingness, a sense of community harmony with connectedness, diversity, social support, etc.
  3. Individual factors such as individual development of cognitive growth with the ability to manage thoughts and overcome fears and stress; good communication with others.

Contrary, it also includes a family history of mental health problems, trauma, past experiences of abuse, genes and brain chemistry.

Mental health is vital in all stages of life, from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. Mental health is the foundation of healthy well-being.

How Does Positive Mental Health Affect People?

Good Mental Health provides a foundation for wellness by realising an individual’s full potential and enhancing work productivity with meaning and significant contribution to communities.

“Mental health is an integral part of the health spectrum regardless of compromise and compensation. It is a necessity to every individual for the overall development of societies as it is more than just the absence of mental illness, associated with behaviour but determined by socioeconomic and environmental factors. 

“It can be enhanced by public health interventions, which comprise a collective action with shared values. Yes, mental health is everybody’s need, with a business of well-being.”

Health is included as a notable goal to the global development agendas. It has always been a global priority, with mental health issues included in sustainable developmental goals.

A worldwide concern of rising depression is a primary cause of disability, resulting in more than 8,00,000 suicidal deaths.

The landmark year 2015 was another step towards mental health and wellness through international interventions. The UN Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-30) and the Sustainable Development Goals, 2030 Agenda (SDGs) are the two UN global frameworks that have included mental health, well-being and disability.

mental health awareness
Representative Image.

Millennium development goals (2000-15) include health as a foremost goal, but mental health was absent from the MDGs and later added into the Sustainable Development Goals (2015-30). Goal 3 of the SDGs ensures healthy lives and promotes well-being for all people of all ages, and clause 3.4 promotes mental health and well-being.

During this period, special measures have been taken to promote mental well-being by protecting the human rights of people affected by mental illness. It also represents a shift from a traditional biomedical approach to mental health since the biomedical model of health focuses purely on biological factors and ignores psychological, ecological and social influences.

Deviating from institutionalised care to a community-based model of care is more effective in meeting the needs of those affected by mental health issues.

In this transition, community-based care has also brought some challenges faced by those who provide care and support to people affected by mental health issues. The concern is showing a certain amount of credibility to caregivers by prioritising their mental needs and contributions.

A research study conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) in 2016, On Pin & Needles, found that adult caregivers are also prone to far-reaching and moderate mental health issues, who provided care to a friend, relatives or family members.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40% to 70% of caregivers have suffered from depression such as emotional distress, anger, sadness, isolation and guilt. Several studies show that the caretakers do not receive care recipients who face social support and quality of life.

A research study by the Indian Journal of Psychiatry in 2014 found the adverse effects on caregiver’s mental health, for example, social isolation, mental health prejudice, financial stress, etc. Their mental health and well-being are unaddressed. Ironically, they deinstitutionalise mental health services but are prone to their health problems.

Interventions, additional services, approaches and strategies such as Mental Health Contact-Based Anti-Stigma Education, Mental health literacy campaigns and peer-based support services that contribute to mental health support need to be highlighted.

Therefore, peer services, as a counterbalance to foster the nonjudgmental, nondiscriminatory practices to provide treatment, has also proven to be quite effective in alleviating the stigma faced by caregivers.

Mental health isn’t viewed in isolation. Intersectionality in mental health is pivotal for cross-cutting the boundaries with gender, caste, disability, conflict, etc.

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People of the LGBTQI community still face discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Their rights have been acknowledging in the gender and sexuality discourses, but despite these assertions, they have faced mental issues such as emotional breakdown, lack of rights, guilt, social acceptance, gender dysphoria, etc.

Contrary, men are also expected to validate traditional socially constructed roles and are not associated with any emotional expression that would lead to stress and mental health problems.

Casteism also perpetuates “generation trauma” by birth in the beautifully quoted segregation. It gives a race of privileged and underprivileged from classrooms to occupational inequalities, which leads to anxiety and severe depression. It causes suicidal deaths but always dissociates with well-being in the health sector.

On the other hand, the disabled are traumatised for being different in terms of capabilities but are considered weak by society. Public places are not eco-friendly in terms of accessibility. Mental health and well-being are toxic to people with disabilities if they are not recognised at the centre of an inclusive society.

People living in conflict regions like Kashmir face day-to-day trauma, physical and mental stress. The continuity of violence perpetuates a never-ending cycle of depression, anxiety and pain.

The loss of family members, friends and loved ones bound their capabilities within the turmoil of thoughts and negligence of well-being by the government, who are responsible for creating war zones for the youth of this generation.

The history of racism and discrimination due to colourism that people have been facing for centuries perpetuate chaos, anxiety, severe emotional trauma and isolation.

The most disadvantaged are people of economic instability, including poor agricultural farmers, labourers, factory workers and migrant women who are affected due to their economic status and inaccessibility to get opportunities and the proper utilisation of resources. The financial crisis forced labour participation of female workers also led to depression and anxiety and resulted in suicides.

Today, religious minorities are also affected by the oppression of majoritarianism and the rise of communal politics. Persecution of Muslims, travesty trials, structural discrimination due to identity, humiliations, mob-lynching, witch-hunting of young Muslims, etc., perpetuates trauma, depression and psychological stress on the young generation.

Who will address these issues on a global platform beyond the purview of the nation’s interest? Do we still trace intersectionality in mental health issues and well-being in feminist politics?

Woman On Balcony
Representative Image.

Today, mental health issues explore their quintessence in a holistic manner or context rather than giving an overview of symptoms, disease and treatment. Mental health problems are problematic sometimes as it labels mental illness in the “normal” vs. “abnormal” purview within the families, friends circle, school premises, etc.

Mental health needs to be viewed as psychological rather than in the biomedical narrative. Most studies indicate that socio-economically disadvantaged people are more affected by schizophrenia than people of higher socioeconomic status.

Yes, the rights-based mental health and well-being is a feminist agenda to make people aware through feminist intervention programs, feminist consciousness. An intersectional and intersectoral vision of approach that can prevent mental illness implies dealing with systematic inclusiveness by bringing social justice, development, livelihood, physical health and human rights on a single platform.

Mental health acts as hygiene in the self-care journey of an individual — an act of resistance against the world that expected women and men to behave differently in traditional ways.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde.

But How Does Individual Agency Work?

Individual agency is also necessary for dealing with mental health issues. My experience with anxiety and depression has shown that I neglect the agency aspect of recovery. Without focusing on the role of healing concerning mental health and well-being, it will be useless.

People recommend overcoming depression and anxiety by ignoring your ability and willingness to deal with the process of dying. Talking about my experiences dealing with excruciating pain can be abnormal for people who refuse to accept that mental health is a significant aspect of happiness and a healthy lifestyle.

However, an individual still has control over certain aspects of life instead of blaming certain things. I used to blame myself for the mental illness that put my life astray.

“The feminist agenda of self-loving, care and preservation offer solutions to the problems that comfort each other with solidarity in feminist politics. It means to create the health and well-being of society that will charge them as feminist warriors with self-preservation.”

doctor prescription
Representative Image. (Source: libreshot)

My illness is a paranormal state of life, but the doctors diagnosed me as a sick patient. I received treatment and medication in my depression phase. Recovery from mental health issues is a slow process that demands time and patience for not giving magical advice but encourages you to be genuine as you are.

“Individual agency acts as a catalyst for the process of healing and recovery in the discourse on mental health and well-being. It is not a linear process rather a fluctuating system of waves, unknown, but an exploration of self by recollecting the pieces of bad memories and coloured with self-love. It is a consciousness of the journey beyond advice and medication.”

Take a quick tour of some of the serious mental health and well-being issues in marriage and motherhood. Patriarchal institutions hardly want to worry about this issue as it is the cause of all kinds of anxiety, trauma and depression.

Traditionally, love marriages are a forbidden sin, while forced marriages are the norm of society. It is an untreated reality of pain, adjustment and compromise. But it is the most neglected area in the personal sphere of married couples as the question of post-marital problems remain on the four walls.

But the feminist agenda challenges the personal space of subjugation, domestic violence, marital rape, intimate partner violence, emotional violence tinged with unrequited love with pain, etc., by asserting that “personal is political”.

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However, mothers conjointly suffer from postpartum depression when giving birth owing to various mental and physical health imbalances. According to the World Health Organization, 22% of India’s population faced PPD.

But these days, motherhood is a symbol of care, choice and shared love to embrace the family born from the union of love instead of simply fulfilling the ancestral desire to have more children.

“We have to establish a diverse platform for an inclusive society committed to combating injustice by discovering power from within. It is creative energy for locating the essence of affection in families, a life of singletons, to regenerate power from self. 

“It is necessary to understand the process of reproduction, maternal health, responsibilities with parental shared love, instead of romanticising motherhood or considering women as superwomen, pain bearers. Otherwise, it will prevent accepting mental illness, postpartum depression, etc.

“Therefore, we need feminist collective consciousness for sharing commitments to the better future of the individuals, children and society that is free from the mental illness with a healthy lifestyle.”

We are standing in the portal of the 21st century, but the subject of mental health is used with disdain. The feminist agenda continues to fight to bring mental health and well-being into the mainstream. We need to normalise essential discussions of mental health through their implications and manifestations of the experiences by all genders who are affected differently.

Who listens to us? Our stories have faded. Turning grey, dull with pain, but hope rests in the soul that sings a song of better days.

It reminds me of my favourite poet Emily Dickinson’s poem, Hope is the thing with feathers:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops — at all
And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm
I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest Sea
Yet — never — in Extremity,
It asked a crumb — of me.

Yes, mental health and well-being are human rights issues. Research shows mental health problems are not only ignored by ordinary people but also by health professionals and policymakers. They continue to violate human rights by compromising with mental health facilities.

“Feminist agenda seeks everyone attention on the Universal access to quality mental health care, with a focus on human rights.”

Featured Image via flickr
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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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