Ayushi Khemka founded a mental health initiative called Mental Health Talks India on social media in April 2018. She believes in channelising one’s vulnerabilities into an honest conversation that can potentially bring about a change into how we live and exist in the world. She is also a PhD scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University working on the intersections of gendered violence and social media.
How have you seen the mental health climate evolve in Mumbai/ India?
Mental Health Talks India existed in our imagination way before it actually came alive for the world to see. Having faced a lot of stigma around her own mental health issues, Ayushi decided to create this platform as a way of expressing her own inner turmoil and raising awareness around mental health in India at the same time. Both Adishi and Ayushi have their own experiences of living with mental health issues. They found no space in which the voices of people with the lived experience of mental health issues was raised or heard. As a result, MHTI came into being as a labour of combined love.
How do you stay motivated every day?
I don’t. And I allow myself to feel that staying motivated daily is not really possible always and that is okay. Some days this realisation works, some days, not so much.
How do you engage in self-care?
he way I personally engage in self-care is pretty basic. Talking to my loved ones, playing some video games, painting, listening to Nazia Hassan and watching Shahrukh Khan’s old interviews. And of course, writing. Lots and lots of writing.
What concerns do you feel are unique to women’s mental health in India? And How do you think they can go ahead and take care of it?
The way our society is built and thriving on women’s unpaid labour on a daily basis, it creates quite a hostile environment for their mental health. The everyday demands made on women to put others’ needs before theirs, to shrink themselves to fit into this one rigid, patriarchal construct of an “ideal woman” can be extremely burdensome. Add to that the multiple forms of oppression and inequalities that women have to face and that too at varying degrees, given the woman’s rest of the identity markers. Surviving through all of this with a sound mental health is tough. Moreover, women’s pain has been historically neglected and negated. All this simply tells us how mental health is a larger structural issue and we need more and more intersectional, feminist approaches to it. And this holds true for not just women, but to all those people have been systemically pushed to the margins.
As women, I sincerely believe we need to stop feeling guilty and sorry all the time. Of course, it is the society that makes us feel that way and while we fight for the revolution to come and wipe away these daily horrors, maybe we could all simultaneously uphold each other and just be there for each other. Not just on social media, but in non-virtual tangible lives as well.
How can women better support other women?
By unlearning. Popular culture has made us feel that we all are each other’s enemies and that we can’t ever be friends, which is basically just patriarchy being super terrified of women getting together. I think we all can start by unlearning these tropes, calling them out for their inherent misogyny and building each other up. Share the opportunities that come your way with other women, if you are good at something, mentor others if they want it, listen to each other and just talk about things. So many of us would be surprised to find out how similar our experiences are!
What do you think the future of Mental Health in India looks like?
The future looks ridden with a lot of talks around various issues that guide the mental health discourse in India. We are standing at a very high hill and we need to dig it deep if we truly want to better India’s mental health system. Be it the public healthcare system, budget allocations, social inequalities, issues related to privilege and access and lots more. I just hope we keep all these and more in mind and do not let all of it get consumed by the romanticisation that comes along with the ‘gram.