Over the last decade or so, and especially over the last year thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have come across numerous news reports that highlight just how endangered our mental health and wellbeing is progressively becoming. Stigma, shame, lack of awareness and accessible resources are clearly some of the key reasons why most Indians today arent even aware of their basic mental health rights. But even though you may not be aware of them, people like Ratnaboli Ray and her dedicated team at Anjali Mental Health Rights Organisation are battling obstacles consistently to ensure that your mental health rightsand the rights of those who reside in government mental institutions due to long-term mental illnessesare strengthened every day.Anjalis Role In Indias Mental Health MapRay, a psychologist and mental health rights activist, founded Anjali MHRO around 20 years back. Anjali is not just the name of the organisation. Anjali is also a personthe first person we reintegrated back into the community from the public mental health hospital in Kolkata. So, the organisation has an embodiment, she explained during our exclusive interview with her. Although based out of Bengal, the organisations work is at the national and international levels too. This is amply proved by the fact that Ray was invited to be a member of the drafting committee of the Mental Healthcare Act of 2017, the body of laws that every Indian must get acquainted with.The work that Ray and Anjali MHRO do is based on what she calls a mutual relationship of respect, dignity and equality. There are four aspects to the work they do:1. The Voices programme, which is located inside the four government mental health institutions in Bengal. It looks at the social inclusion of the recovered residents through capacity building using methods like art, dance, theatre, crafts, installations, etc.2. Janmanas, the community mental health programme, which grew organically, because as they started the reintegration programme, they saw the stigma, discrimination, violence, lack of awareness in the ecosystem of the community. The uniqueness of the Janmanas programme lies in the fact that its mostly run by the women in the self-help groups (SHGs) under four municipalities of Bengal.3. Advocacy and campaigns, where they look at the policies and laws of the government. Their consistent effort is to make those policies patient-friendly or person-centric.4. Livelihood, because employment is a very big issue for recovered people from mental illness.The last aspect, Ray says, is critical for people with mental health issues. We have seen that if they are included in the workforce, they feel honoured and there is a kind of role-valorisation that I am a worker, so I am valued, and that works very beautifully, she adds. So, Anjali MHRO helps patients run a commercial laundry, Dhobi Ghar, a small tea canteen where they prepare food, and a small bakery where delicious poppy cake, savoury muffins, sweet muffins are made. Under their Voices programme, Anjali MHRO also teaches skills like block printing, sabai, quilt-making, pottery and ceramics.Mental Health Rights, Sexuality And DisabilityBut while the right to livelihood is crucial, Ray underlines other aspects of mental health that also need to be focused on. Sexuality and sexuality rights matter here just as much. Persons with mental illness often are denied their sexuality rights, especially affirmative sexuality like romance, intimacy, marriage, she says. So, we help them look at that as well. We talk a lot about pleasure, romance, and they do find romance even in mental hospitals. Instead of putting them under the carpet, we encourage them to talk about it because if youre trying to build personhood, then you cannot deny them that sexual agency. And thats very important in a journey from patienthood to personhood, and if youre promoting personhood then it has to be all-embracing, all-encompassing.Ray also points out that even though most psychiatrists are opposed to it, putting the issue of mental health within the disability framework is also important in many ways. Because of the social structure, people with mental health conditions do face a lot of discrimination and a lot of barriers, both psychologically and socially. And that renders a person with mental health conditions often disabled, she explains. If we frame mental health issues within the disability framework, then it not only takes away the stigma associated with it, it also kind of helps a person to access many benefits from the existing government schemes.Women And Mental Health RightsAnother feature highlighted by Ray is the intersectionality of mental health, and its utter need to be a part of the universal healthcare programme. Class and caste, she says, are key intersections here, but so is gender. She points out that women, especially, are socialised in a way that certain red flags of mental health issues can end up being naturalised. Crying, for example. It is assumed that women cry, and hence, a woman who has particularly intense crying spells does not easily recogniseor even acknowledgethat its a problem or a sign of deeper mental distress. The end result, Ray says, is that womens mental health issues remain unaddressed for a long time.So how do we convince women to get the help they deserve for their mental health? One of the things that you have to kind of communicate is seeking help is not about shame, Ray says. Seeking mental health services is not about stigma. She also suggests that without focusing on mental and physical health equally, none of us can ensure our wellness. Even if your body performs at an optimum level, if your mind doesnt, then you do falter. And this has been beautifully and poignantly demonstrated by none other than Simone Biles, the gymnast, she explains. Although her body was absolutely fit, her mind was not. And she didnt deny herself that. She spoke up. And she could bounce back. So give yourself a chance to bounce back, and dont be too harsh.