How should we talk about mental health?

Mental health suffers from a major image problem. One in every four people experiences mental health issues — yet more than 40 percent of countries worldwide have no mental health policy. Across the board it seems like we have no idea how to talk about it respectfully and responsibly.

Stigma and discrimination are the two biggest obstacles to a productive public dialogue about mental health; indeed, the problem seems to be largely one of communication. So we asked seven mental health experts: How should we talk about mental health? How can informed and sensitive people do it right – and how can the media do it responsibly?

End the stigma

Easier said than done, of course. Says journalist Andrew Solomon: “People still think that it’s shameful if they have a mental illness. They think it shows personal weakness. They think it shows a failing. If it’s their children who…

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Citizenfour, Glenn Greenwald and why privacy matters

When filmmaker Laura Poitras started receiving encrypted e-mails in 2013 from an anonymous whistleblower identifying himself as “Citizen four,” she did what any brave filmmaker would do: she picked up her camera and went to investigate.

Poitras charts what happened next in Citizenfour, a documentary that premiered Friday at the New York Film Festival. Watch the trailer:

Citizenfour provides a gripping look at events including her first meeting in Hong Kong with “Citizen four,” aka Edward Snowden (TED Talk: Here’s how we take back the Internet). Learn more about the film.

As one of the first reporters to see Edward Snowden’s files, journalist Glenn Greenwald (TED Talk: Why privacy matters) has broken many stories on the global surveillance being conducted by the NSA and other intelligence agencies. Greenwald’s current book on the topic, No Place to Hide, was released in May. He continues to write about surveillance issues for The Intercept.


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What are you revealing online? Much more than you think


What can be guessed about you from your online behavior? Two computer privacy experts — economist Alessandro Acquisti and computer scientist Jennifer Golbeck — on how little we know about how much others know.

The best indicator of high intelligence on Facebook is apparently liking a page for curly fries. At least, that’s according to computer scientist Jennifer Golbeck (TED Talk: The curly fry conundrum), whose job is to figure out what we reveal about ourselves through what we say — and don’t say — online. Of course, the lines between online and “real” are increasingly blurred, but as Golbeck and privacy economist Alessandro Acquisti (TED Talk: Why privacy matters) both agree, that’s no reason to stop paying attention. TED got the two together to discuss what the web knows about you, and what we can do about the things we’d rather it forgot. An edited version of the conversation follows.


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Innocence Lost

This post of mine deals with news that went ignored amidst all the drama in political and IPL circles. I happened to read it in a vernacular magazine, and here I have chosen to publish the content of that article in english, just so those who missed this news are informed about it.
The license to the Mulund plant of Johnson & Johnson company, in Mumbai has been cancelled by the Maharashtra Food and Drug administration, India, on account of the use of ethylene oxide in its baby powder. Ethylene oxide is a substance that is normally used in medical equipment and to produce industrial chemicals. The company is said to have used the substance to sterilise its baby powder but did not conduct the tests necessary to ensure that traces of the same do not remain in the powder.  Ethylene oxide is known to cause cancer, in addition to lung damage, vomiting and nausea.
With every break for the shows on TV, you get to see the rather heart melting advertisement for Johnson’s baby care products, that proudly says “we’ve been helping mothers take care of babies for 100 years now.” Indeed. My mom used Johnson’s baby soap, lotion and powder for me and my brother as babies. I still remember the smell it had. A smell I have always associated with childhood, innocence and my brother’s then soft, chubby cheeks. I am smiling right now as I think of it. But it disappears as I bring myself back to reality. Baby powder!!!! Of all the things in the world!!!! Isn’t there anything in this world that we can trust?

About seven lakh products are manufactured using chemical substances in this world. A hundred different food and drug related products with different chemical compositions enter the market everyday. Among the seven lakh products that contain chemical substances, only 1700 products meet the international safety standards, or to be precise, only 1700 of them shall publish authorised information on their package labels, of their compositions and that the product shall not cause any adverse reactions in its consumers. But the disappointment is that these 1700 products are mostly available only in the developed countries. About 50,000 types of such products which do not inform its consumers of its content are sold in the third world countries, including India. If these products were to be tested for health and safety standards, it would take us a good 80 years and an expenditure of five lakh dollars. This is exactly why these procedures have been avoided and the products have been directly sold in the market. To put it raw, the people of the third world nations are the lab mice for the products that have not been tested.
In 2008, China’s leading producers of milk powder for 15 years, Sanlu group, produced and sold melamine laced protein powder, that sickened 300,000 children and caused the death of at least 6 children. About 80 percent of these children were 2 years old. Following this, the man who produced the milk, Zhang Yujun was awarded death sentence, the mayor who issued the permit for the company to be run was dismissed. Sanlu group was bought by Hebei Sanyuan Foods Co Ltd. But in India, a well reputed milk powder company still has tie ups with the Sanlu group.

Under the limelight, the baby products is all we see. But a great deal of politics lurks in the dark, away from all eyes. Reason : the economics that surrounds these baby products. One could say the play began about thirty years back, when UNICEF had reported that a large number of children in the third world nations die due to lack of mothers milk. Maybe the concerns that UNICEF had expressed were indeed genuine. But it seemed to have unleashed more devils than we could handle.
Multinational companies utilised the opportunity well to influence the governments to propagate the message that milk powder is an effective substitute for mother’s milk. India was no exception to this. If the poor were made to believe that milk powder is an equivalent of mothers milk, the well-to-do were told that a woman would lose her beauty if  she breast-fed her child. The direct consequence of this misconception was increased prevalence of illness and diseases among children all over the country. This was when the health ministry and the UN, after studying the situation, had concluded that mother’s milk was best for children and consequently the Indian government began educating people on the importance of mothers milk and that the child must be breast-fed for up to at least 1 year. But by then, these companies had established themselves well enough in the country. Even today, the number of mothers who breast feed their child in the northern parts of the country is low, because of the intensity with which the messages favouring milk powder were propagated.

Baby powder is not the only product where these chemicals are used. Baby shampoo, soap, oil – name it and they all have chemicals that harm the child. In shampoos meant for babies ( as well as adults), sodium lauryl sulphate and sodium ethyl sulphate are used – both known to cause cancer. It is a rarity to find a shampoo that does not use sodium lauryl sulphate. In order to rid the baby oil of its oiliness, the oil is filtered and a chemical, hexane is used to extract the light oil. Also, organic salts are added to increase the shelf life of the oil. These chemicals seep in, through the delicate skin of children and cause skin cancer.
In developed countries, there is an effective ban on such products. In India, though, we have still not unlearned the practice of welcoming them with a red carpet.
These chemicals don’t just affect children, but adults too, and more importantly our environment. They seep into the ground through water and make the soil infertile.

The only way we could deal with this, is by going all natural – use home-made products for ourselves and our children. One can come across a thousand ways to look good the natural way, if only one chooses to see how. There are more number of traditional methods to look good than the stars in the sky. Certainly children do not need these chemicals to keep them healthy or beautiful. They only a need a willing mother, who this world is not in dearth of.
But look at what we have been doing to ourselves. We have subjugated ourselves to a few money making giants, let them contaminate our homes, our bodies, our children’s innocence for generations together and thus given them the license to wipe out our entire race from the face of the earth. It is time we woke up.

Rapes – What I think the government must do.

This is the mail I sent to Justice J.S.Verma who would head the 3 member committe of jurists  formed to suggest amendments to criminal law to sternly deal with sexual assault cases. The committee, which includes the former Chief Justice of the Himachal Pradesh High Court, Leila Seth, and the former Solicitor-General, Gopal Subramaniam, has asked all stakeholders to send their suggestions by e-mail to or through fax at 011-23092675. According to the Hindu report dated yesterday “ the committee has urged the public in general and particularly eminent jurists, legal professionals, NGOs, women’s groups and civil society to share “their views, knowledge and experience suggesting possible amendments in the criminal and other relevant laws to provide for quicker investigation, prosecution and trial, as also enhanced punishment for criminals accused of committing sexual assault of an extreme nature against women.” Do send in your suggestions about the measures to be taken if you have any. Here is mine.  

Respected sir

In the wake of the recent case of gang rape in Delhi, the entire nation has been demanding stringent laws to curb the atrocities against women. As a woman myself, I too want the government to take immediate action and provide better for the safety of women. The following are what I, as a citizen demand the government to do for the safety of women in this country.
1. Setting up of fast track courts for the trials of rape cases throughout the country. These courts must be present at the zilla level and must be approachable even by victims in the most remote rural areas of India.
2. Increasing the number of personnel in the police, assigning more number of policemen with the task of guarding the locality that falls under the limits of each police station. This work of guarding the area must be carried out throughout the day. 
3. The police men who are assigned such outside duty must be given sufficient perks and incentives as encouragement for the work that they do. And the rules must be such that these police men can not be asked to do any other work such as protection of political leaders instead of guarding the city.
4. The police must be given training on how to be sensitive and sensible in cases of harrasment or any crime for that matter which is directed at women.
5. All schools (government and private) must be made to include as part of their curriculum lessons on the rights of a woman and training programmes that teach a child how to respect women. In such training programmes, the parents must also be included and imparted training on how to bring up their children as individuals who respect women, and if the parents are found to be lacking in respect for women themselves, counselling must be imparted to them as part of this programme.
6. Every victim of rape must be given an aid of Rs.5,00,000. In addition to this, the State must give her a job opportunity in a State run establishment or let her pursue a course of her choice in a State run or aided university, or both depending on what she wants.
7. It must be made a law that the media while reporting developments in a rape case in the days following the incident, do not continuously repeat the words that that victim was raped. For ex: In the Delhi rape case, it is sufficient if the media simply mentioned the Delhi rape case. They do not have to keep repeating the gang rape of 23 year old girl each time they report it. She has been raped once. It is not necessary that these words be repeated each time it is reported of. The number of times such words are used must be limited to 3 days from the time it is reported of.
8. In an obvious case of rape or even harassment, the police must be given the power to file the complaint themselves and carry on the proceedings and not wait for the victim to give the statement.
9. Death penalty must be awarded in every case of rape as opposed to applying it only in the rarest of rare cases of rape. The reason I suggest so is because the rarest of rare doctrine is used to gauge only the circumstances pertaining to the crime and the nature of the crime itself.  But we fail to recognise that whether a woman is subjected to a rape or gang rape or an extremely brutal gang rape, end of the day, the pain and suffering that the victim has to go through is still cruel. Our government must understand that unlike a crime of murder, a rape has implications on the victim physically, biologically, mentally and socially. She has to live through it the rest of her life. Please take a victim oriented approach to rape is all I am asking you.
Also, if you have noticed, this Delhi case has induced fear in the hearts of all people alike – women, men and even children. A society living in fear is not a healthy sign. The only way this can be set right is by awarding death sentence to rapists – all cases of rape.
I do not agree with some people who say that awarding death penalty shall reduce conviction rates since most rapes are committed by people known to the victim such as relatives. If a rape is committed by a relative, the victim shall still be pressurised to not complain to the police even if the punishment was life imprisonment, fearing society and other such factors that might stop her from reporting it had the punishment been death sentence.
I hope these suggestions are taken seriously and are included as part of your recommendations, since as a woman and as a citizen I find these absolutely necessary. We do not want to be ashamed of being born in India or scared to have a daughter in the future.
Thank you.
Jai Hind.