The Lessons that the Men’s Mental Health Movement can Learn from Feminism

In recent years, many women and men have increasingly rallied behind the feminist movement, which fights for equality in opportunities and rights between men and women. The idea is to eradicate gender stereotypes, the age-old argument that ‘men and women are not the same’, at its rotten core. Being ‘same’ is not the same as being ‘equal’. Proponents of the women’s rights movement have made progress in finding the words to convey this stance and drive the wider public to their cause. This is apparent from the growing attendance at marches and protests across the world that mark important milestones in the movement.

Destigmatisation through dialogue and demonstrations

An intentional yet subtle outcome of the movement has been the growing change in perspective and the consequent destigmatisation of conventionally taboo topics of rape, sexual harassment and domestic violence. The normalization of discussion of these issues in the widespread media through the sharing of stories by influencers and stars (the ‘Me Too’ movement is a prime example) has given strength to the common public to come forth with their own life stories. As the dialogue surrounding these topics grows louder, awareness increases, allowing development of sensitization to these issues.

This outcome is exactly what is expected when it comes to men’s mental health. We need to shatter the stigma surrounding the issue and engage the media, thus reinforcing the fact that it is okay to discuss these issues which are also considered taboo. The measures that were effective in the Feminist movement can help the men’s mental health movement too. November is men’s health month, also called Movember, as men grow mustaches to raise awareness for issues such as prostate and testicular cancer and also mental health of men. While on one hand, men dominate professionally and politically, they’re also more susceptible to suffering from a wide range of mental health issues such as suicide. This article by the American Psychological Association outlines the guidelines for psychological practice with men and boys. Organizing events surrounding this month’s theme and engagement by widespread media can grow the movement by leaps and bounds. 

Enemy Number One

The women’s movement has a clear Enemy Number One – The Patriarchy. So protests and marches were led targeting this common foe. There is no single person who represents this enemy – it is rather the idea that there is something to fight against, which inspires people to rally and come together. It lifts the haze of incoherence and provides a focal point around which the entire ideal can be constructed. In terms of men’s mental health, such an adversary is absent, which is because clarity can be scarcely afforded on a deeper investigation of the subject. This should be a primary goal of the movement as it is stories which instill passion in the public rather than just a bulletin of goals. We need to ask the question, ‘What is stopping men from discussing their mental health?’ and we might find our rallying cry in its answer.

Equity not Equality

Finally, the solution to women’s rights being equity rather than equality to the whole cacophony of ‘men are not the same as women’ has a profound lesson for the men’s mental health sphere. We are all different and unique in our own way. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to destigmatizing men’s mental health issues. We need to approach the problem in a different way, by creating additional opportunity for the severely-disadvantaged in a disproportionate fashion so as to bring them on equal footing. This might mean that we need to research heavily on what bolsters chances of men seeking therapy and what undermines these efforts. We may also come up with innovative and unique therapeutic methodologies to sensitively address the issues so as to build trust in male patients. 

We need innovative solutions to tackling the difficult challenge of destigmatizing men’s mental health and inspiration is abundant for those who look for it. We may need to look no further than to women in their fight and learn from their struggles and victories to build a better tomorrow for men, too.

Mental Health in the Workplace

With the quarantine in full effect, Some of us have been working from our beds – the line between home and work completely blurred. Some others have a little too much family time and work has been their escape. And, for yet many more the pandemic has cost them their jobs and uncertainty looms like a guillotine over their lives. The undeniable fact remains that this lock-down is a little crazy and completely chaotic, and working from home has only added fuel to the fire.

The conversation surrounding mental health has never been more important, and while more and more people are talking about it, one space that it is rarely discussed is work. The internal separation between our ‘professional’ work-selves and our home-selves makes the topic of mental health issues taboo at the workplace. The need for this dialogue is also scarcely driven by employees. Changing this corporate culture must be driven by every worker. Spreading awareness and building support for demanding these benefits is a vital starting point. Encouraging more open conversations about mental health between colleagues and peers can lead to a more robust employee-driven implementation of policies. Finally, focusing on continuous improvement and adapting to change is key to support a workforce that deals with rapidly changing ways of working. Regardless of the myriad occupations that each of us hold, we can focus on these common spokes to turn the wheel of change. 

While some companies have started recognizing this and provide benefits catering towards employee mental-health such as free therapy and paid time-off, this is far from being the norm. Corporations exploit this diffidence to enhance their profit margins. However, businesses may actually profit from providing mental health services as part of their benefits. The World Health Organisation estimates that the cost in lost productivity due to depression and anxiety disorders is nearly US$ 1 Trillion. 

The pandemic and resulting work-from-home paradigm has brought forth a new challenge to the mental well-being of the digital workforce. While traditionally, most companies viewed working from home with suspicion, the current state of the world has brought enlightening new facts to dispel this doubt. Microsoft was among the first companies to enforce work-from-home for its employees. It has also been proactive in studying the results of this ‘experiment’. Some of the highlights (or sobering facts, to be accurate) from this study are, 

  • Employees were spending 10% more time in meetings when working remotely.
  • Instant Messaging usually slows down by 25% during lunchtime. However, when working from home, it dipped by a mere 10%.
  • Instant Messaging usage soared by 52% during 6pm and midnight.

The World Economic Forum recommends these 10 tips to boost your mental health when working from home. Here are some of the key points.

  • Set up a dedicated workspace, which should be as free from distractions as possible.
  • Develop a schedule, which includes phases of focused work as well as breaks.
  • Try to establish simple routines which don’t require any self-control, such as a coffee break or starting your working day with an easy routine task.
  • Set up dedicated times for work and leisure – and stick to these times.
  • If possible, work in a different room than the one you spend your leisure time in. Particularly avoid working in your bedroom as it may remind you of work related issues, preventing detachment when you go to sleep.
  • Engage in absorbing activities, which capture your full attention after work. Good examples include exercise, cooking, mindfulness meditation, or focused playing with your children or pets.

Due to the advances of technology and to the delight of managers, the feeling that an employee is available at any time when working from home has become the norm. Mental health has taken a back seat. Zoom burnout and loneliness (especially in the case of the younger workforce) are frequent complaints. In a 2010 experiment conducted by Nick Bloom, a British Economics professor at Stanford University, for a Chinese travel agency Ctrip, one half of a 250 employee-group, were told to work from home while the other half worked in the office. To the surprise of the agency, the productivity of the Home group went up by 13% and the company could save nearly $2000 annually per employee from this arrangement. But the experiment also measured happiness and ‘feelings of loneliness’ were the main reason for employee dissatisfaction. 

A majority of people spend one third of their adult life at work. Even if the social value of dispelling stigma surrounding mental health at the workplace isn’t enough, there is also a clear economic motive. The same study that estimated the cost of lost productivity due to employee mental health issues also provides hope. As a positive incentive for companies to take up the cause of mental health in the workplace, the research estimates that for every US$ 1 put into scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of US$ 4 in improved health and productivity. Here are the key takeaways from the steps recommended by the World Economic Forum to build a mentally healthy workplace,

  1. Be aware of the specific needs and circumstances of the work environment of your employees and tailor policies best suited for your company.
  2. Seek inspiration from motivational leaders and employees who have taken action.
  3. Be aware of other companies who have taken action to put mental health policies in place.
  4. Successful implementation of mental health policies and delivery of benefits relies on collaboration. Take practical steps to put this into place.
  5. Figure out where to go if you or your employees need professional help for their mental health concerns.

Most of these measures can be implemented whether the employees are at office or working from home. The most important step is to ‘Start taking action NOW.’ Employees have found innovative ways to stay connected with colleagues, who for many, double as best friends and form an important part of their social network. It is time for businesses to open a more humane side of operations and recognize that whether their employees are working from home or at the office, their mental health is as much of a tangible factor in their success as any profit margin.

Dissociative Identity Disorder: An Overview

What is DID?

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), also known as Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), is a severe manifestation of the group of psychological disorders known as Dissociation. DID is characterized by an individual experiencing a splitting or fragmenting of their original personality into two or more different ones.

This leads to a lack of clarity in a person’s thought, emotions, memories and actions.

What causes it?

Extensive research by organisations such as the American Psychiatric Association shows that DID is more often than not caused by severe emotional, physical or environmental trauma in a person’s past. These causes include physical, sexual, and mental abuse, the loss of a loved one, and life-threatening or near-death incidents, usually occurring around the age of 6.

Who does it affect?

DID occurs very rarely; studies show that it affects 0.1% to 1% of the general population. But when it does occur, there is no age bracket or cases of medical history within which patients fall. DID can affect anyone, living at any place, of any age, or with any background. The onset is commonly observed to be during childhood, but the symptoms may take years to manifest, making it very difficult to diagnose and treat the individuals.

However, it is also commonly agreed-upon by medical professionals that females are more susceptible to this disorder than men.

How can you recognize it?

The following symptoms have been recognized and grouped among individuals with DID:

  •       Eating and Sleeping disturbances
  •       Amnesia
  •       Hallucinations
  •       Self-injurious behavior
  •       Prolonged headaches and migraines due to irregular sleep patterns

One other symptom that is observed is an alternation of personalities; a radical shift in thoughts, behavior and emotions, due to the emergence of the different ‘alters’.

Methods of Treatment

  • Psychotherapy: Also called ‘talk therapy’, it is designed to work through whatever triggers the DID.
  •  Hypnotherapy: Clinical hypnosis can be used to help the person access and deal with repressed memories and feelings that are potential causes of DID.

Another effective form of therapy is encouraging the affected individual to indulge in the creative arts, music, or exercise; anything that can help to reduce stress in a positive way.

Misconceptions about DID

Multiple personality disorder, as DID is more commonly known, has been featured time and again in novels, television series, and movies, the most famous of them being the character of Gollum in JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series, and Alfred Hitchcock’s blockbuster hit, Psycho (1960). While it makes a good premise for pop culture, the severity of this mental illness is often disregarded and misunderstood.

Though most fictitious characterizations show one or more of the personalities as being ‘good’ or ‘soft’, and some as being ‘violent’ or ‘psychopathic’, in reality, one can never predict the nature of the ‘alters’. So it is best to seek professional help when dealing with a person with DID. 

How can I help?

You can help the patient by recognizing the symptoms at the right time and taking immediate action. DID is a very serious condition that needs to be treated as soon as it is diagnosed.

You can find out more here:

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/dissociative-disorders/what-are-dissociative-disorders

https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/conditions/dissociative-identity-disorder-multiple-personality-disorder

https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Dissociative-Disorders

 

 

How to Be a Good Ally to the LGBTQ+ Community

The world is a beautiful place, filled with people of different age, race, religion, economic class, able-bodied status, gender, sexual orientation, etc. These infinite identities, in their various combinations, are the ones that make our everyday experiences unique and powerful.

In the case of gender and sexual orientation, over time, our ideologies have become conditioned to be more accepting of familiar binary identities while often disapproving those who identify beyond the binary. Identifying differently is not something that is up to choice and is simply the way they are. It is nothing uncommon and there are ample examples of non-binary identities throughout history and even mythology

While there has been a slow and growing acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, they continue to face different forms of prejudice. This often forces the community into living a fearful and closeted life. Everybody, regardless of their choices deserve to live a life that is free of discrimination, which is why becoming an ally and standing up for what is right is of great significance and importance. An ally is a person who is genuinely concerned about the well-being of the LGBTQ+ community and strongly advocates for equal rights and fair treatment. While there is no such thing as a perfect ally, here are a few tips on how to be a good ally.

1. Understand Gender, Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression

  • Do not confuse sex, gender and sexual orientation. Recognize the range of identities that a person can associate with.  To know the difference between sex, gender and sexuality and to learn more about the various identities, please check out our blog article, Infinite identities – understanding sex, gender and sexuality.
  • Try to do your own research. It is unfair to ask the LGBTQ+ community to justify their identity for your better understanding.
  • Always use the appropriate pronoun to address people. If you are unsure of what to use, ask the person how they might want to be addressed. Also, get to know when/where it is safe to use the chosen pronoun. ( e.g. In front of the family / at their workplace)

2. Do listen when a person talks about their identity

  • Talk inclusively about sexualities in your everyday conversations, to make it easy for someone to know that you’re a safe person to share their identity with.
  • Be aware of the process of opening up about one’s identity and realize that the process is not a one-time thing and is unique to each person. It is okay to ask questions but make sure they are posed in a sensitive way.
  • Appreciate them for having the courage to tell you, do not judge them, and most importantly respect their confidentiality.

 3. Speak up for the Under-represented

  • Speak openly about the LGBTQ+ people in your life, if they have opened up and are comfortable with it.  Again, be aware of when/where it is safe to do so.
  • While social media is a wonderful tool for education and building community, take online activism further into real-life scenarios. Anti-LGBTQ comments are very hurtful. If you find yourself in a situation where such discrimination happens, speak up and say that you find them offensive.
  • When people speak up, it helps educate others and also reduces instances of intolerance from repeating again in the future. It will also give others the courage to stand up against discrimination.

 4. Check yourself whenever you’re “performing” as an ally

  • We have to acknowledge that we can still do harm, even when we’re trying to do good. Remember that it’s okay to make mistakes while getting to know the LGBTQ+ community. 
  • If you mess up, do not beat yourself up for it. What is more important is to learn from them and move forward. Apologize for your actions and aim to do better next time.

Being an ally is about embracing the differences and looking past them to create a better world. It is choosing to strip down all the different labels and to remember that we are all human. It is about being Otis to Eric [1] and Captain Holt to Rosa [2]. While one person by themselves cannot change the world or undo the past,  one can do their best and that’s good enough. 

 Here is a list of other resources, that you can refer to help you become a better ally:

 

REFERENCES

1 From the Netflix show, “Sex Education

2 From the Netflix show, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine

https://www.oprahmag.com/life/relationships-love/a28159555/how-to-be-lgbtq-ally/

https://engage.youth.gov/resources/being-ally-lgbt-people

https://buffer.com/resources/lgbtqia-resources/

https://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/a27703265/how-to-be-lgbtq-ally/

LGBTQIA Resource Center:  https://lgbtqia.ucdavis.edu/educated/ally-tips

A look at LGBTQ issues – Relationships, Religion and Access to Resources

‘Who am I?” – This question has haunted thinkers and philosophers forever. We attach an identity to a person and aim to form a generalized opinion of the mass through this segregation. However, each person has multiple identities – a woman, a biracial person of color, a brother, a social worker, a queer man… the list is endless. It is when we feel supported and recognized in every aspect of our collective identity that we feel accepted as a person. This realization, that each of us have something or the other in common and that we are ‘brothers’ through some shared identity, allows us to empathize when we see others being shunned for their sense of identity, for example, being LGBTQ+.

The LGBTQ+ movement is focused on getting EQUAL rights, to overcome the disadvantages they face on a daily basis and to earn a place of respect just as any other person could but without hiding their gender or sexual identity. The road to equality and acceptance isn’t always the same for people of differing identities. Sometimes, it is an uphill struggle with no reprieve – especially for minorities and disadvantaged groups. This fact, in any way does not discount that it might be difficult for a person not belonging to these groups, but only that there is an added hurdle of discrimination that cuts deep into the progress by someone who is LGBTQ+.

This is evident in major aspects of any person’s life – relationships, religion and access to resources. In all these areas, scientific studies conclusively state that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to face hurdles and have less success in achieving a fulfilling life.

Relationships

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Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Even in countries with a generally progressive view on LGBTQ+ rights, people belonging to the queer community are far more disadvantaged and having a lifelong relationship with a partner remains a distant dream. A 2013 Survey of LGBT Americans shows that only 16% of LGBT people, mostly bisexuals with opposite sex partners are currently married compared with about half the adults in the general public. We can safely assume that the numbers are even lower in conservative and religious countries such as India. Acceptance by family is another major aspect to the problems faced by LGBTQ+ people. The stories of prosecution and attempts at conversion therapy of LGBTQ+ youth who have come out to their family deter the many others still deeply closeted. It is cruel that even their family is no place of solace from the continuous stress and trauma owing to the fear of judgement from society. 

However, there is hope. The trend in urban India shows that there is an uptick in the activism and awareness surrounding LGBTQ+ issues. With the repeal of the colonial-era law criminalizing homosexual relationships, the support on social media and general public has increased. This move in India has also inspired movements in other former British colonies to throw out this outdated law. Support systems form an essential building block in the foundation of LGBTQ+ relationships. Many LGBTQ+ people’s accounts show that they received support and help from online platforms anonymously, opening up an avenue for closeted LGBT people to seek a sense of community. Hopefully, this social acceptance can also translate to more and more families accepting their children’s sexual and gender identity.

Religion

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Faith and hope can come from more than one place. Spirituality and religion can impart a sense of belonging and must be a safe haven for everyone who wishes to practice it. ‘For a member of the LGBTQ+ community , however, that avenue is also riddled with danger. The outlook for homosexuality’s acceptance in Indian religions is grim. Most religions either oppose or remain mum on homosexual relations and this lack of basis in written tenets alienates the LGBTQ+ population from following religion. This is exacerbated by the fact that most liberal religious leaders do not raise their voices for fear of prosecution. 

In our blog article, The Language of Love, we discuss how homosexuality and gender identity aren’t radically new concepts in the context of Indian history. This attitude is slowly changing; in an article published in Indian Express, there are examples of how acceptance by a local church father, temple priest, or Muslim cleric can make an impact at a wider level. As stories such as these are adopted and shared by the media, more and more religious leaders might step up to the need of LGBTQ+ people’s concerns in Faith. A study by GLAAD, Missing Voices, reports that mainstream media outlets were disproportionately reliant on anti-LGBT religious voices and provide a skewed outlook of general opinion. As an example of proof to the contrary, Catholics support marriage equality at 54%, which is higher than the U.S. national average. Faith and Spirituality must be non-political, open, and accepting to all, for it is a sanctuary for the emotionally and spiritually wounded to open up and that is not possible when there is fear of judgement.

Access to Resources

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Deprived of meaningful connections through relationships or religion, it is sad but not surprising to find that this has a direct impact on the mental and physical health of LGBTQ+ people. This issue is compounded by the fact that to access resources, a gay or lesbian person has to overcome hurdles of substantial proportions. Financial independence can be a strong factor in the decision to come out of the closet. A curated study by the World Bank in India, finds clear evidence of stigma and exclusion for LGBT people in India and that this stigma has a possibly substantial economic impact of lower productivity and output because of employment discrimination.The situation is far worse in the case of health resources. In an exhaustive guide and resource kit published by the U.S. Department of Health, it is stated that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to contract physical illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and obesity and mental health issues such as suicide and substance abuse. 

However, In the same guide, it also finds that culturally sensitive mental health services have been shown to be more effective in the prevention, early detection, and treatment of these conditions. At the height of the gay rights movement in the U.S. the fight for access to resources to combat AIDS was a strong motivator. Providing these resources contributed significantly to improving the overall health of the population and bringing about awareness of the deadly disease. A research study published in World Development which analyzes economic data from 132 countries from 1966 to 2011, finds that there is a strong sign that economic development and LGBT inclusion are mutually reinforcing. Just one additional point on an 8-point scale of legal rights associated with a whopping $2000 per capita GDP increase. This shows that there is a strong basis for governments and industries to fight against LGBT discrimination and secure their rights in the workplace.

Open LGBTQ+ people are a minority. The majority of the population might feel inclined to not support their rights or that their problems are exclusive and trivial to a straight person. The research and data however paint a picture to the contrary. Inclusion of LGBTQ+ people has a direct positive impact on the overall health and economy of a nation. If data and statistics aren’t enough to convince you to be a supporter of their rights, we must look past the identity of a gay man, a lesbian woman, a transexual or queer person and see that they too hold an identity that you might associate with; a college student, a sister, an Indian, a neighbor in your community. It is through this shared identity that we must motivate ourselves to be compassionate and empathetic to their cause. Only through this attitude of acceptance and approval can we truly become open and accepting to our own identities and those of others’.

The Silent Crisis

TRIGGER WARNING: MENTIONS OF SUICIDE

 

There is no right way to begin talking about something like this. And that is exactly why it should be talked about; because conversations surrounding mental health issues are uncomfortable, need vulnerability and most importantly take a damning amount of courage. 

You see, the fight against the stigmas surrounding mental health dialogue and creating awareness about mental health issues is an everyday push-and-pull. India has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. There are days when the world seems receptive to conversations, seems accepting of mental health issues, but some days just go on to show just how much of an uphill battle it actually is. LonePack was started with the very purpose to fight to start getting people to talk about mental health and to normalise mental health issues and their treatment. But it is absolutely gutting to see so much insensitivity and dismissal that still shadows mental health. It makes you think just what does one need to do to tell the world that they need help? And this is essentially what it is – this is the heartbreaking yet sobering reality that millions who are battling their own demons face every single day. 

If you scream out for help with everything you have but no one listens, you forget how to speak with time. 

It is high time everyone joins the battle against de-stigmatising mental health. It is not a taboo, it is a crisis. And it is time that the world starts recognising that. 

To bring to attention a few things that need visibility, especially now.

 

  • Be extremely careful of the words you use. It is very easy to throw words out there that in reality can deeply affect and trigger someone who is battling mental health issues. Be very sensitive to the content you share on social media. Be mindful of your language and educate yourself on the proper way to address those who reach out to you for help or talk to you about their mental health. Here are a few resources that you can refer to

Ten Commandments for How to Talk About Mental Health

Mental illnesses: Terms to use. Terms to avoid.

  • Do not misuse hashtags on social media. The aim as a collective is to bring attention to the issues surrounding open dialogue on mental health. It is not to be taken lightly and not to be used as an exploitative tool for any sort of personal of professional gain. 
  • Talking is definitely  a great first step but if you wish to open yourself up as a listener to those who need it, do keep in mind the accountability and responsibility that come with it. It is not to be taken lightly. You have to provide a non-judgemental, safe and inclusive environment for people to talk to while taking care of your own mental health. Here is a document that outlines some of the do’s and don’ts of being a listener https://lonepack.org/blog/index.php/2020/06/15/talking-to-someone-who-is-suicidal/. Again, let it be known that it is not an easy task. Instead, gently guide them to professional help and resources.
  • Please, please be kind. Battling mental health issues is not easy in any sense. Mental health is often romanticized as being quirky, moody, or anti-social and its portrayal in media is only now slowly changing. It is not pretty, it is not cute, it is not an adjective in any sense. It is raw, it is messy, it is uncomfortable, and it is wrenching. Be kind to those around you. 
  • The road to recovery is long and winding. Be patient. Anyone who has battled or is battling mental health issues can attest to the fact that recovery is not simple, it is not easy and it is not linear nor definitive. It is not a switch that you can flip and consider yourself to be “cured”. It is an everyday battle and every single, small step taken towards getting better counts.  Please be patient and understanding. 
  • Reach out. Mental health issues are silent. Those who are battling them might not feel ready or comfortable or safe to talk about it. The stigma surrounding mental health issues has made it incredibly difficult for those who battle mental health issues to come out and talk about them. And most often than not, they are driven to believe that they are alone in their battles. It is important to let them know that they aren’t and offer unyielding support. Reach out and check in on people with kindness and gentleness. 
  • Educate. Both yourself and those around you. Use your platform, no matter how small, to spread awareness by sharing proper established sources of correct information. This is one of the most important things to do if change is to be brought. Here are a few resources to check out.

Mental disorders

Health Topics

 

It feels unreal when someone who battles mental health issues gives up on it. That is someone’s friend, sibling, parent, partner, colleague but most importantly a genuine human being. Life is not to be taken lightly. Empathy and understanding is often dismissed when addressing issues such as this in the press and on social media. It is sickening to see the way a person’s life is turned into a mockery of sense in the wake of their death. And it has to stop. They are more than their achievements, they are more than what we see. There are so many who need help and are unable to have access to it. It is up to us to become allies and fight against the stigma. Fight for changes at the grassroots levels. Fight to normalise mental health issues and its treatments. If not now, then when will change happen? How many more lives do we have to lose to see change? Do your bit in helping. Here are a few ways you can be a strong ally

  • An audiovisual representation of what does it mean to be an ally 

How to be a mental health ally

NAMI Infographic – Helping Others Along the Road

To reiterate, mental health right now is not a taboo but a crisis. We need change and we need it right now. 

Talking to someone who is suicidal

Talking about suicide is never easy. 

While you might want to help, it is important to first ensure that you are comfortable talking about it; if you’re not, it is bound to reflect in the conversation. If talking about suicide makes you feel uneasy, then it’s a good time for you to reflect and ask yourself why. Is the fear of saying the “wrong thing” stopping you? Then hopefully this document can serve as a comprehensive starting point. Beyond this, it is also suggested to read testimonials of survivors, to truly understand what it means to feel suicidal.

What pushes someone over the edge?

The thought of suicide is a consequence of feeling like there is no other option – that there is no other way out other than ending one’s life. It may sometimes come from a place of loneliness, a place of punishment, guilt and even pain.

Know that talking about suicidal thoughts rather than keeping it inside is a positive sign, because it means that the person is reaching out for help. They are reaching out for someone who can understand their pain. And reaching out always means that there is hope.

Hence when someone mentions that they feel suicidal, do not go into panic mode. Although it is completely natural for us to have this “default reaction”, understand that staying calm will help you think more clearly and to be actively present. If we equip ourselves with proper awareness and knowledge to deal with the situation, then we can trust ourselves to be better at providing support. Remember, all we need to do is to be there for the person on the other side. Because, that is all THEY need. But what does “being there” mean? It means to actively, whole-heartedly and truthfully pay attention to the person and to take them seriously.

Let us remember that contrary to the popular notion that talking about suicide can increase its risk, if the topic is addressed in a sensitive manner, it can encourage an individual to share their experiences and feelings.

Here are some myths and facts about suicide –

https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/if-youre-worried-about-someone-else/myths-about-suicide/

 

Assessing the level of risk

Assess the immediacy of acting on a suicidal thought. Does the person have a weapon nearby and can they end their life immediately (extreme risk)? Or are they calm and just talking about their suicidal thoughts as a way to share and reflect (mild risk)?

In the case of the former, understand that this extreme risk is driven by an intense feeling that “everything is too much to handle”. So try to lower the intensity of this feeling. Some de-escalation phrases are discussed below (re: Pt. 8 of “What should you say”). Engage the person in conversation, even if it is about the suicidal thought itself (given they want to speak about it; refer pt. 4 of “What should you say” below). Just keep the conversation going. And, when appropriate, calmly insert a suicide helpline.

In the latter case of mild risk, while the person shares these thoughts, please refrain from trying to “solve” or “fix” the problems causing those thoughts or an immediate attempt to “lighten” the mood. These efforts, although well-intentioned, may stagnate conversation. Pay attention to what the person needs through actively listening to them.

What does it mean to actively listen? It involves:

  • Not trying to talk the person out of their thoughts or feelings.
  • Not professing to understand a story that is not yet known.
  • Not offering superficial reassurance.
  • Not problem-solving.
  • Not giving advice.

In some situations, it is helpful to plan a buffer – a “safety plan”, in case the person contemplates attempting suicide again. This is essentially a plan of action which consists of identifying one’s triggers (for increased awareness) and devising a set of internal and external coping strategies that can be used when needed. This plan enables them to have more control of the situation.

Please read more into this so that you can learn and maybe coordinate making such a plan with the person. 

Here are some links to read up more on what a “Safety Plan” is:

https://www.suicideinfo.ca/resource/safety-plans/

http://suicidesafetyplan.com/uploads/SAFETY_PLAN_form_8.21.12.pdf

https://www.nasmhpd.org/sites/default/files/SAMHSA%20SPI%20SMI%20PPT%20final_2.pdf

 

Safety plan template : https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/SafetyPlan.pdf 

What should you not say?

These are not meant to be a strict set of rules but rather guidelines that should be kept in mind while conversing with a person who is at risk.

 

  • “Suicide is selfish/Think about what your family and friends will go through” – This just adds on to the guilt that the person is feeling because they already think they’re a burden. And in their distressed condition, they may feel that they would be freeing their friends/ family of this burden. How to use empathy here? Understand that it is normal for anyone in excruciating pain to just want to escape. Haven’t we all experienced being in pain and just wanting it to go away? Think about those times and try to grasp the pain the person is going through.

 

  • “Suicide is cowardly”– This statement does nothing but add shame. It does not help the situation but instead can make the person feel judged and cornered.

 

  • “You don’t mean that. You don’t really want to die.” – Often out of panic, we might say this to the person, but it can be really dismissive and invalidating of the person’s experience. At ANY circumstance, it’s always better to believe someone is suicidal rather than dismiss it, because even if there is a morsel of truth to it, taking the person seriously can avoid the danger.

 

  • “You have so much to live for”– Although in some cases, this might convey a sense of hope, it is important to remember that the top reason someone resorts to suicide is because they DON’T think they have anything to live for. In such cases, this can communicate a lack of understanding of their feelings and situation.

 

  • “Things could be worse”– Yes, things can be worse but pain cannot be compared. Pain is a SUBJECTIVE experience. Someone’s whole world can be crashing even if they are relatively “well-off’.

 

  • “Other people have problems worse than you and they don’t want to die”– True, but don’t you think the person has already considered this? Compared themselves and felt more shame and guilt that they couldn’t handle it while others could? In fact, this can make them feel like they’re broken or defective. Reality will then just seem like a sick joke.

 

  • “Your problems can be solved/Your problems are temporary”– Although some problems may be temporary, there also exists problems that can be long lasting and all we can do is learn to cope with them in a better way. This statement just shows a blatant assumption which again may push the person further away, making them feel like you don’t understand their situation.

 

Here’s a link to read more – https://purplepersuasion.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/ten-things-not-to-say-to-a-suicidal-person/

If you feel you have already said something referring to those listed above, don’t panic. It’s okay. Just go back to the person and convey that you did not respond helpfully and apologise for it. Let them know that you want to understand better and that you will henceforth try your best to be a better listening ear, an ally, a buddy who will be there for them.

What should you say?

Please do not take this as a “script” to be followed word-by-word but try to grab the essence of what needs to be said. Also try to refrain from over-using the phrase “I understand” and instead use statements/ phrases that SHOW you understand. Ask yourself, “What can I say right now that will show the person that I understand what/how they feel and that I care about them?” The following statements are some examples for the same.

 

  • “I appreciate that you told me about your suicidal thoughts. This must’ve been so hard for you”– Acknowledge and appreciate the person for opening up. This will reinforce them to talk about it more and to also reach out more in the future.

 

  • “I’m sorry for all the pain and hurt that you are feeling. It must be eating you up inside to feel this way” – Use empathetic statements that show you understand how tiresome and burdening it can be to continue living with suicidal thoughts.

 

  • “I know you feel scared, but I’m right here and we can talk about this” – Reassure the person that you’re here with them- real time. That you will be there to virtually “hold their hand” through the whole process.

 

  • “If you’re comfortable talking about this, would you like to tell me what makes you want to die?” – Sometimes, talking about what makes one feel suicidal can serve to vent the frustration, increase engagement and help understand one’s triggers. Also keep in mind to use phrases such as “Are you okay with this?”, “Can we do this?”, “Are you comfortable with this?” to ensure that you are not pushing the person too much.

 

  • “What can I do to help/ make you feel safe?”– It is always better to ASK someone about their needs first, instead of assuming. If they reply with a “I don’t know”, reassure them that it’s okay and you both can figure this out together.

 

  • “It takes a lot of strength to decide to wake up and fight these painful thoughts everyday”– Acknowledge how difficult it is for someone who is suicidal to DECIDE (by using this word, you reinforce that they have a choice, that they can choose to live and work towards a better life) to continue living despite the difficulties they face.

 

  • “Sometimes we can feel trapped by our thoughts- like there’s no way out. But you are not your thoughts. It can seem hard but don’t let them limit you from reaching out and seeking more options” – Again, try reinforcing the idea that there are still options out there.

 

  • Some de-escalation phrases when they are threatening an attempt on chat- “I’m right here, although not physically, I’m listening and I’m here for you. We can take this one step at a time”. Ask them if they have anything that will cause them harm near them. If they respond with a yes, gently ask them if they can trust you and if they can listen to a small request. *Note: Emphasize on words/ phrases such as “small step”, “tiny request”, “just this one thing” because this makes what you ask sound achievable and is met with little resistance* Wait for their response and then ask them to put the instrument far away in a drawer or even under the mattress. Then gently try to calm them (if they are feeling overwhelmed) through grounding. 

Grounding is a technique that can be used to calm someone by increasing awareness of their senses – what they see, hear, smell and feel. This is also a great way to keep them engaged in conversation and to distract from the immediacy of a suicidal thought.

Once relatively de-escalated, you can ask them to lie down, drink some water or to eat something (mindfully pay attention to whether this is what they need) because the intensity of the emotions can make them feel tired and light-headed.

For more info on grounding and related exercises-

https://www.speakingofsuicide.com/2015/08/20/tips-to-calm-anxiety

 

  • Follow up: Persistence is the key here. Dropping a message or giving them a call, can go a long way in reaching out to the individual. Even if you don’t talk on a regular basis, let the person know that you are there for them.

Highly recommend reading this article- https://www.speakingofsuicide.com/2013/06/06/how-would-you-listen-to-a-person-on-the-roof/

If you’d like to read the original sources/ inspiration of the above article, kindly look at these links

What Would You Say to the Person on the Roof? A Suicide Prevention Text- https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1521/suli.31.2.129.21509

How Would You Listen to the Person on the Roof? A Response to H. Omer and A. Elitzur- 

https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/pdf/10.1521/suli.31.2.140.21518

Hopefully, this helps you feel a bit more confident about responding to mentions of suicide! Please reach out at engage@lonepack.org if you’d like to share some feedback on this or if you’d like to suggest improvements!

The Language of Love

While many assume that homosexuality and homoeroticism are Western concepts that diluted Indian traditions, there has long been a question of how and from where these seemingly radical ideas originated. And even though Indians can’t possibly take all the credit, we have had a fair share of gender-fluid characters and relationships in our history, mythology, and literature.

Contrary to popular belief, our ancestors were extremely far-sighted and liberal. I’m not talking about our parents and their parents or even a generation before them. Think older than that. Let me help you out; picture the oldest generation of your family who you know of, go back three generations, and you might be where I’m at.

I’m talking about Moghuls and Sufis, and going further than that, even gods, angels and demons.

Yes, you heard me right, we have homosexual and transgender gods across the Hindu pantheon. Ardhanareeswar, the perfect combination of God Shiva and his wife Goddess Sakthi, is the patron god of many transgender communities in India. We also have a god born of a union between a homosexual couple. Lord Aiyappa (who is ironically celibate), is said to have been born between Mohini, a female avatar of Lord Vishnu, and Lord Shiva.

Hard to believe? Let’s step into solid history, then.

‘When I see my friend I am abashed with shame,

My companions look at me, I look away sans aim’

(Babunama Translated from Turkish by Annette Susannah Beveridge)

There are many accounts of Babur, the man who single-handedly brought the Moghul dynasty to the forefront of Indian history, being bisexual. In fact, Baburnama, his poetic autobiography, mentions how we was once attracted to a man named Baburi, and how he became lovesick even after he got married to his first wife, Aisha Sultan Begum.

And while we’re on the topic of poetry, let’s not disregard Rumi, the great Sufi poet, whose verses blatantly disregarded the idea that love and sexual desire were taboo.

When someone quotes the old poetic image

about clouds gradually uncovering the moon,

slowly loosen knot by knot the strings

of your robe.

Like this.

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,

don’t try to explain the miracle.

Kiss me on the lips.

Like this. Like this.’

(The Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks)

 

Still need rock-hard proof?

Look no farther than the Khajuraho temples in Madhya Pradesh. Built sometime in between 960 AD and 1050 AD by the best sculptors in the Chandela dynasty, this Jain temple complex has explicitly sexual figures and sculptures that would put the Fifty Shades Trilogy to shame! The most surprising thing about these temples? A good part of them pays homage to homosexual love.

And it’s not just Hinduism, Islam and Jainism; homosexuality and homoeroticism exist in practically every culture in the world.  But so do prejudices and condemnation.

For example, ‘Love hurts,’ is a popular opinion.

‘Unrequited love festers and wounds,’ is also accepted by many.

But something that hurts even more? Not being able to show your love.

It’s taken us 72 years to rid ourselves of our old-fashioned beliefs and practice acceptance by doing away with Section 377. And in those 72 years, a lot of us have suffered because of what others deemed ‘wrong’ and ‘impure’.

How many of us have had to bury our feelings deep inside because of our fear of what society would say? How many of us have felt depressed and wounded because of that repression of our love? How many times have we wished that we had never fallen in love with that particular person?

But let’s face it; society is flawed. It is an imperfect system created by humans to regulate and control each other’s activities. From love that defies the ‘rules’ to lower-than-acceptable marks in your boards, society will keep judging you. There’s no point in worrying about it and spoiling your health and future.

Mahatma Gandhi once wrote, ‘Where there is love, there is life’. Accordingly, love is one of those things that will transform your life. Love, by itself, gives you happiness and peace. Apart from that, biologically speaking, the feeling of love releases dopamine, the feel-good chemical that your brain releases when it feels rewarded or happy, which also eases the negative emotions of sorrow and stress.  And all this happens despite your beloved being older or younger than you, or the same gender as you, or of a different religion, caste or race than you.

Of course, there will always be that fear of judgement from your own family and friends, but then again, what you need to ask yourself is this: Is your love worth all the stress and the effort? If the answer is yes, we suggest you pick up a rose, climb a balcony, and pull off a Shakespearean romance.

After all, what’s in a gender?

Team LonePack wishes you happy life filled with love and prosperity!

Infinite identities – understanding sex, gender and sexuality

“Wahhh…” A newborn cries as it leaves the mother’s warm womb to face the baffling world. The doctor joyously announces, “it’s a girl” or “it’s a boy.” The baby is identified by the pronoun -she or he, based on which the life of an infant is mapped out. From the clothes they wear to the toys they play with, from the emotions they can express to their probable profession, the seemingly distinctive categories of male and female becomes a pertinent determinant.  Further, our society traditionally expects that only a man and woman can be attracted to each other. Sounds familiar, right? But just because we are conditioned to look at things a certain way, it doesn’t tell us the entire story! It is now time to move beyond the binary vision that makes us comprehend the world in black and white, or in this case pink and blue. When we perceive things through a prism of possibilities  rather than  a non-dichotomous lens, the rainbow of sex , gender and sexual identity  emerges. Wait, what? don’t they all mean the same? Absolutely not! Come, let’s try to unravel them one by one-

‘Sex’ entails physiological characteristics like genitalia, chromosomes, hormones, and genes that we are born with. But guess what? Our biology can blur the line of distinction between “male” and “female” bodies with the diversity and variation it offers. Yes, intersex individuals have physiologically reproductive traits that do not conform to the “typical” sex assignment. No, there is nothing faulty or unhealthy about an intersex identity. So, do our genitals dictate our ways of being? To answer this, let us put the spotlight on the term ‘gender.’

1) Gender–biologically determined or socially constructed?

 An increasing line of evidence shows that the experience of gender is a complex interplay between nature and nurture. A meta-analytical study by Todd et al. (2017) revealed that a preference for “male typed” toys or “female typed” toys cannot only be attributed to cultural expectations but also biological predisposition. Despite variations in the geographical location of the study, culture setting, provision of gender neutral toys, presence or absence of adults and the year of publication, there remained a significant difference in toy preferences among girls and boys. These differences remained consistent across countries that rated high on gender inequality and those that scored low on the dimension, suggesting an innate influence on the toy selecting behavior. However, fundamental differences embedded in biology should not confine individuals to a particular way of thinking, feeling, or behaving. Our intrinsic differences are plagued by rigid gender norms that society propagates. This is where the social forces of gender steps in.

Rhoda Unger (1979), a feminist psychologist illustrated that the terms ‘sex ‘and ‘gender’ are not synonymous. While sex suggests biological differences, gender is a socially established role arbitrarily allocated based on this biological distinction. We let the labels, female and male, guide our everyday behavior and choices across situations through the process of socialization. “Why are you weeping like a girl? Learn to play it cool (it doesn’t matter if you are dying inside).” “Who is this horrible driver? Must be a woman.” These are the voices of the everyday gender roles and stereotypes that we subscribe to. We invariably assume someone born as a male to epitomize “masculine” qualities associated with being assertive, unemotional, dominant, and daring. On the other hand, someone born as a female is expected to embody “feminine qualities” recognized as sensitivity, dependency, gentleness, and passivity (Williams and Bennett, 1975).  However, instead of regarding “masculinity” and “femininity” as two ends of a pole, androgyny implies a union of both. On the Bem Sex Role Inventory, designed by psychologist Sandra Bem (1974), high scores on femininity don’t necessarily mean low scores on masculinity. Yes, one can score high on both the dimensions simultaneously! In other words, you can express your gender in ways that renounce the rigid dichotomy of “man” or “woman.” This also brings us to the next concept.

2) Gender identity

Gender identity is one’s self-conception or internal sense of who one is based on their association with “feminine” and “masculine” gender roles.  A transgender individual might feel that their biological sex doesn’t do justice to their subjective experience of gender, elucidating that we are more than our anatomy. Our identity brings with it a universe of possibilities, existing across an infinite continuum. Gender diverse individuals can move across this spectrum, feel they belong somewhere in between, or choose not to associate with any gender at all.  They may identify as non-binary, gender-queer, gender fluid, agender (to name a few), or not label themselves at all. What matters at the end of the day is that self-expression can be myriad, varied, colorful and yet valid!

Sexuality

The discussion around multiple forms of expression remains incomplete without addressing sexuality. Our sexuality is the romantic, emotional, and /or sexual attraction (if at all there is any) towards others. Just like the rest of the concepts discussed here, there are no prizes for guessing that sexuality too exists on a spectrum. Alfred Kinsey (1948), devised a rating scale that ranges from exclusively ‘heterosexual’ to exclusively ‘homosexual’ (the term is outdated and considered offensive. Avoid using it!). This suggests that people can experience their sexuality in ways extending far beyond our listed categories. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, bi-curious, asexual, aromantic demisexual, and pan-sexual are just a few of these diverse identities, each adding its own unique hue to the rainbow. 

While many individuals wish to express themselves in unique ways, they continue to face discrimination, injustice, and isolation because their identity doesn’t align with society’s definition of “normal.” A recent study conducted by UNESCO (2019) tried to understand the experiences of participants (18-22 years) who identified as members of the LGBT community in Chennai’s educational institutions. The results divulged that 60% of the respondents had faced physical bullying and 43% sexual harassment in school. Consequently, they suffered from depression, anxiety, and were more likely to drop out of school. How do we challenge this status quo? The way forward lies in questioning the hetero-normative narrative that promotes strict gender binaries and advocates heterosexuality as the norm. The essence of a pluralistic and inclusive culture is in celebrating differences and accepting all forms of expression as legitimate.

While navigating the evolving constructs of gender and sexuality is an ongoing process, may you define and redefine yourself in unbounded and unapologetic ways, breaking free from the pigeonhole!

                                              You told me the box is where I belong

But I could hear the rainbow call me, all along

You told me my identity is something to hide

But in being myself, I take immense pride.

Citations

  1. https://www.genderspectrum.org/articles/understanding-gender
  2. https://opentextbc.ca/introductiontosociology/chapter/chapter12-gender-sex-and-sexuality/
  3. https://books.google.co.in/books?id=pNUkDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=sex+and+gender&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi4iO6kwuPpAhUGOSsKHZ2YCHQQ6AEIQjAD#v=onepage&q=sex%20and%20gender&f=false
  4. https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/07/what-is-heteronormativity/
  5. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/lgbt-bullying-in-schools-takes-heavy-toll-reveals-unesco-report/articleshow/69718451.cms
  6. https://qz.com/1190996/scientific-research-shows-gender-is-not-just-a-social-construct/
  7. https://www.healthline.com/health/different-types-of-sexuality#d-l

Schizophrenia – An overview

 

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental health disorder that is characterized by distortions in thinking, perceptions, emotions, sense of self and behavior. Common experiences include hallucinations and delusions.

These experiences may be difficult to describe to friends and family members, yet seem completely real to the affected person. This may make it difficult for others to understand that these are the effects of the illness.

 

Who is susceptible?

Schizophrenia affects an estimated 20 million people worldwide. The disorder is relatively infrequent, about 1 in 2000 people are affected. Schizophrenia also commonly starts earlier in men. 

People with Schizophrenia are 2-3 times more likely to die early than the general population. The illness starts mainly in young people, ages 15 to 30, however it may start at other ages as well.

 

Why is someone affected by it?

It is widely thought that a combination of genetics, environmental factors such as stress or even psychological factors may contribute to Schizophrenia. 

Schizophrenia can be inherited but in most cases, children of Schizophrenic patients do not develop the illness. Stress can exacerbate the illness or cause a relapse for recovering patients.

 

How is it treated?

Schizophrenia is effectively treated by a combination of medicines and psycho-social support. As a family member or friend you can help by,

  1. Understanding the illness better
  2. Encouraging the patient to access treatment
  3. Encouraging the patient to get back to social roles as much as possible
  4. Taking care of your personal health and mental well-being
  5. Feeling confident to deal with the stigma and discrimination that you and the patient might experience

However, most patients with chronic Schizophrenia lack access to treatment. About 90 percent of untreated Schizophrenic cases are from low and middle income countries. There is also clear evidence that out-dated mental hospital treatment is not effective and transfer of care from mental health institutions to the community needs to be prioritized.

 

Where can you head to find out more?

This article has been derived almost exclusively from the WHO and SCARF websites. The following pieces can further your understanding of Schizophrenia.

Facts:

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/schizophrenia

https://www.nhp.gov.in/disease/neurological/schizophrenia

Articles on Schizophrenia by NGOs:

https://www.whiteswanfoundation.org/search-result/?q=schizophrenia&tag=True

https://www.scarfindia.org/scarf-media/2019/08/what-is-schizophrenia.pdf

Opinion articles on Schizophrenia:

https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/people-with-schizophrenia-open-up-about-the-myths-and-assumptions-surrounding-the-condition/article27186122.ece

https://theconversation.com/the-concept-of-schizophrenia-is-coming-to-an-end-heres-why-82775

Report on status of mental health in India:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/lancet-report-mental-health-disorders-on-the-rise-in-india/articleshow/66156376.cms