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Why Do We Continue To Ignore The Mental Health Crisis Among Queer Folks

Imagine you feel ‘different’ at a young age and you are told that your difference is unacceptable by the society

Mental health issues are on the rise recently, as has raised awareness towards mental health. In comparison to the previous decade, mental health and mental health issues are no longer viewed through the lens of ‘being mad’ or ‘becoming insane.’

People seem to have become more aware of and empathetic to persons with mental health issues. People frequently are vocal about issues such as depression, anxiety, distress, and so on.

Representational image.

Awareness has made it easier for people to understand the difficulties that a person with mental health issues goes through and hence the feeling of empathy has also grown in individuals. Even then, a segment of the population continues to be excluded from receiving mental health services.

Mental And Social Discrimination

This group of people is primarily made up of the socially underprivileged, who are not only denied access to mental health care but also face societal discrimination.

LGBTQ is an acronym that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, or Questioning. LGBTQ is frequently used as an umbrella term for individuals with diverse genders or sexual orientations.

The stigma and stereotypes that surround the LGBTQ+ community, as well as the prejudice that members of the group encounter, stem from the fact that they must live a dual life to be accepted in society.

The urge to be someone they are not, and then attempting to live with the truth behind that mask, has increased in the frequency of mental health concerns among LGBTQ+ people.

Growing up in a society where heterosexuality is often promoted as the only acceptable orientation and other sexualities are considered aberrant, LGBTQ+ persons confront enormous challenges.

They continue to experience discrimination and marginalization in all aspects of life around the world. On a social level, LGBTQ+ individuals are socially excluded. They have little influence over their lives and the resources accessible to them; they may become stigmatized and are frequently subjected to negative public attitudes.

Likewise, such prejudice and discrimination on an individual level may have a massive impact on their mental health, particularly if the individuals attempt to conceal or deny their sexual orientation. Individuals may struggle with self-awareness of their sexual orientation at times.

In addition, the society also makes it difficult for individuals to accept their own identity because their identity is seen as unnatural, making it harder for them to accept their own identity. These two reasons are the prime factors that contribute to the mental health issues among LGBTQ+ people.

Not only that, due to the societal stigma associated with the LGBTQ+ population, they do not seek professional help.

Apart from this, coming out is a crucial step, emotionally and mentally for LGBTQ+ folks. Research has shown that feeling positive about one’s sexual orientation and integrating such an identity into one’s life fosters greater well-being. LGBTQ+ individuals are at a greater risk for poor mental health across developmental stages.

Various studies have pointed out the increased rates of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), substance use and abuse, and suicidal ideations and attempts in the community.

For instance, a research report on mental health disparities of LGBTQ+ by the American Psychological Association (2017) found that LGBTQ+ individuals were more than twice as likely as heterosexual men and women to have a mental health disorder in their lifetime.

They were 2.5 times more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and substance misuse compared with heterosexual individuals. LGBTQ+ older adults face several unique challenges, including the combination of anti- LGBTQ+ stigma and ageism.

Approximately 31% of LGBTQ+ older adults report depressive symptoms; 39% report serious thoughts of taking their own lives.

What Can We Do?

Keeping all these things in mind arises the question: what can we do? Today, more Indian youths are accepting of queer and diverse identities than ever before, but acceptance of their sexuality and the freedom of expression of their choices remain a constant struggle for LGBTQ+ people within their families, homes, and schools.

In urban India, social media, other corporate, and non-governmental initiatives are playing a vital role in raising the awareness of LGBTQ+ people. However, these initiatives are not sufficient.

Even today, the people from rural areas have their way to deal with the LGBTQ+ people away from LGBT pride parades, meet-ups, and intense Twitter debates.

Representational image.

Here, I would like to say that we should not discriminate against people only based on religion, caste, race, ethnicity, sex, place of origin but also on the ground of sexuality as well. They are also human beings. They also deserve to have equal rights as we do.

Thus, there is a need for awareness regarding the LGBTQ+ people at the individual, state, and national levels for acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community by society. This will help to change social attitudes toward them. Besides, the government, non-governmental organizations, educational institutions should organize workshops and seminars about their rights.

Special Counselling centers should be established at the district level to help the LGBTQ+ people fighting mental illness. More research should be conducted on the LGBTQ+ community to make people understand sexual minorities, associated prejudices, and their impact.

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, 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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