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Your Location In The Society Will Determine Your Mental Health

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Trigger Warning: Mention of suicide.

A study conducted in Brazil on the Bolsa Familia, the world’s largest conditional cash transfer program, found that those who received benefits from the program were 61% less likely to die by suicide that non-beneficiaries.

This provision of basic income led to improvement in mental health and well-being of the population, which highlights the fundamental link between mental health and societal issues.

The stark divides across diverse dimensions – the urban-rural divide, the wealth inequality, the gender disparity, caste divides and religious differences intersect and culminate to adversely affect mental health of the community leading to high rates of suicide.

Implications Of Wealth Inequality

According to the Oxfam report, the top 10% of the Indian population holds 77% of the wealth. The 67 million Indians who comprise the poorest section of the population saw a 1% increase in their wealth, as compared to the 73% increase of the richest 1%.

Image credits : LiveMint

This is accompanied by a drastic increase in prices, with the inflation rate of 2020 standing at 6.62% compared to 3.72% in 2019. In the pandemic year, rising prices are accompanied by a loss of livelihood making it impossible for poorer sections of society to provide for themselves.

The relationship between education and inequality of wealth distribution has been highlighted by the COVID pandemic – students face a lack of access to resources like laptops, smartphones and the internet which are required to attend classes which has led to declining mental health and rising suicide rates among students.

Students feel as though they are a burden to their family because of the necessity of these expensive gadgets for their education.

On November 2, 2020 a student from LSR died by suicide; her heartbreaking note read, “Because of me, my family is facing many financial problems. My education is a burden. If I can’t study, I can’t live.

Farmer deaths by suicide in the country are a highly politicized topic. The reason for over 20% of cases is bankruptcy or indebtedness – the inability to repay credit taken from banks or private moneylenders owing to crop failure.

72.4% of deaths recorded are farmers belonging to these two categories. Despite this being a pattern observed every year, there haven’t been any concrete steps to alleviate the burden on these farmers.

The per capita income of India has seen a steep decline from 2019-20 to 2020-21 going from Rs. 94,566  to Rs. 86,659. At present, 60% of India’s population (812 million people) live below the World Bank determined poverty line. Due to the pandemic, 104 million more people could fall below this line.

Gender Disparity And Caste-Based Discrimination

A 2018 study released by Lancet Public Health revealed that of all women who die by suicide globally, 40% are Indian and most are married. The age group considered (15-39) is “vulnerable to financial hardship and familial, especially marital, pressure.

Marriage often accords less protection and security for women owing to early, arranged or child marriage which are accompanied by domestic violence, economic dependence and low social status.

The gender disparity highlighted in these numbers is a cause for concern and is a reflection of the societal and judicial systems within the country.

The rate of crimes against women was recorded as 53.9 in 2015, with the capital city, Delhi, having the highest crime rate of 184.3. This is a 43.2% increase since 2011.

Social disparities often have dire consequences for marginalized sections of society – students in institutes of repute who die by suicide tend to be from marginalized communities and face caste discrimination.

These deep-rooted cycles of oppression are built into society, and rebellion is viewed as challenging the very basis of society. Representational image.

In the pandemic year, rising prices are accompanied by a loss of livelihood making it impossible for poorer sections of society to provide for themselves.

A student from IIT Roorkee died by suicide after facing caste based bullying for months; another student from the University of Hyderabad died after experiencing caste-based discrimination from his professor.

The cause of death is often reported as depression. This eliminates and exonerates external elements that could have led to the death, and shifts the blame onto the victim.

Indigenous tribes have the highest suicide rates in the country. A fourth of members from the Idu Mishmi tribe in Arunachal Pradesh have attempted suicide at some point.

These tribes are often displaced from their homeland and ridiculed in their new location. Provided with no support and no resources to sustain their livelihood in a new area, they believe that death by suicide is their best option.

Caste as a social system and mechanism demeans and dehumanizes individuals and exploits them. According to government data, crimes against Dalits increased by 7% in 2019.

This was backlash from dominant caste members to what they perceived as a challenge to the caste hierarchy. These deep-rooted cycles of oppression are built into society, and rebellion is viewed as challenging the very basis of society.

On the other hand, those on the receiving end of this culture of exploitation tend to have their mental health impacted adversely.

How Can This Change?

Integrating structural changes into society that eliminate exploitative and dehumanizing systems like the caste system and provide health care, dignified social welfare or rights based schemes are changes that need to be incorporated.

Government policies like Universal Basic Income (UBI) – providing free basic income to all citizens of the country – have been found to be very effective in reducing suicide rates among the population.

With the COVID pandemic increasing poverty in the country, we are likely to see an increase in suicide rates similar to the situation observed in Greece after the financial crisis of 2009. UBI is viewed as a tool that has the potential to eradicate poverty within the country.

The time is now for providing the workforce in the informal sector and those unemployed with regular income to ensure their well-being through these trying times.

However, there are fundamental issues associated with UBI. The main issues are the time period where this income is provided and the amount provided. Another factor to keep in mind is that income also doesn’t take into account caste identity, loss of indigenous land and other cultural factors, and so cannot improve a person’s social standing. Thus, the cycle is not broken.

ASHA workers have played a tremendous role prior to and during the COVID pandemic in ensuring the mental and physical well-being of their community.

Expanding the education of frontline workers, other medical professionals and ASHA to include basic mental health awareness and identification, prevention and treatment methods that could lead to substantial improvement.

Improving access to therapy and increasing the number of therapists in public hospitals is key. Along with this, it is important to cast away prejudices against mental health professionals and encourage individuals to seek out help.

We have a key role to play in destigmatizing mental health and providing support to struggling individuals at our level.

For society to progress, we need a mindset change that supports discussions around mental health accompanied by government policies that aim to diminish the divides in society that are responsible for declining 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.

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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