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Gender Matters: Intersecting Mental Health and Gender

Dec 1 2017 / Posted in Gender Violence

The convening of the National Conference, ‘Gender Matters: Intersecting Mental Health and Gender’ in Mumbai, Maharastra from 16-18 November 2017 represented an opportunity to highlight the double burden of gender on mental health. The conference explored three dimensions of gender on mental health: gender differences in roles and norms and the stressors to this by virtue of being a woman, gendered differences in responsibilities and gendered nature and response to conflict and violence. The focus was to deliberate and build a dialogue on the intersectionality between mental health concerns and gender based violence. Mental health practitioners are often oblivious of the implication on how and why gender perspective is critical to their work. On the other hand, organisations working on health issues of women need to recognise the importance of working through the social determinants of gender and mental health in their interventions with survivors of gender-based violence (GBV).

The conference held on November 16-18, 2017 at Y.B. Chavan Centre, started with a preconference workshop (Nov 16, 2017) that addressed two areas of relevance to professionals working in government and non-government organisations: (a) understanding trauma and providing psychological aid to survivors of violence . (b) Implementing a stepped care model and community based intervention program on gender based violence and mental health. The pre-workshop sessions imparted skill building on techniques of post-trauma counselling and working out a stepped care model on gender-based violence and mental health.
The Conference, held on November 17-18, 2017, was addressed by Ms. Vijaya Rahatkar, Convenor, Maharastra State Commission on Women. Several panellist and speakers spoke and discussed on issues related to, and their work on, gender based violence and mental health issues. The conference sessions centred on the triple and multi-fold disadvantage that people who are affected by gender based violence and mental illness are experiencing.

The historical aspect of health policy internationally and nationally was discussed by Prof Surinder Jaiwal, laying the foundation for the conference deliberations. Dr. Shubhangi Parkar addressed mental health issues of women and in particular, of working women, hailing from urban marginalised pockets. Dr. Nilesh Shah, Dr. Ranade and Prof Osrin deliberated on gender based violence and mental health issues from the multidisciplinary theories and approaches that included biological, psychological and social theories and approaches. Dr. Nayreen Daruwalla highlighted the violence and mental health issues of marginalised women and the need to look at an integrated approach. Ms. Chandana Bakhsi spoke about psychotherapeutic interventions with survivors of domestic violence and Ms. Gunjan Sharma brought the media’s perspective in highlighting issues of mental health care in institutions. Several field intervention community mental health project experiences were shared, namely, Sangath, SNEHA, Swayam, Sankalpa, Bapu Trust, Banyan and Tarasha spoke on how they have intervened through community mental health approach. One common thread across all community health approach was making community rich in resources in a resource constraint environment to maximise mental health care for survivors of violence.

Mr. Desiraju discussed on how the Mental Health Act has made access to health a right, giving power to the mentally ill through the advance directive and affirmed the state to be the guardian of the mentally ill. Dr. Pathare also spoke on how the marital laws have put women with mental illness at a disadvantage, especially making their marriages to be at risk to be made null and void or be pushed to divorce through mutual agreement under duress. Ms. Shubhdaha, Mr. Nachiket More and Ms. Kavita spoke about rehabilitation models for survivors of violence with mental health condisitons. Ms. Vanessa D’Souza shared on the challenges of funding especially when it is services for the mental illness. Ms. Rajvi from Mariwala Foundation shared about the funding landscape on health and how mental health has not been prioritised.
The conference ended with an agreement to build programs and networks and become a formidable force that promotes research and services for the welfare of the mentally ill and for survivors of violence with mental health conditions. The main areas to be focused on in the future were concerted efforts on raising consciousness on mental health, involving more stakeholders for collaborative projects and develop rehabilitative models that will support concerns of mentally ill and survivors of violence with mental health conditions.