Self-Care in the Pandemic: Youth and their Coping Mechanisms

Ada Grewal

Brief Overview 

 

The 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborative (DAC) and EnterChange Innovations (ECI) organized a youth consultation with 60+ young people on 10 July, 2021, with a view to understand the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the youth. ECI is a youth engagement partner for DAC, and is a leading organization that engages youth on matters of sexual and reproductive health and sexual rights. 

 

This session, which engaged young people from Rajasthan and Bihar, was the second consultation in a series of engagements with young people. The first consultation with young people was hosted on June 10, 2021, and engaged participants from Jharkhand.  

 

The objective of these youth consultations is to bring together young voices on one platform, to hear directly from them about their challenges and needs amid a global pandemic, and to learn how are they dealing with their mental health in these stressful times. The conversations though were particularly broken down into two areas — Understanding the emotions that the youth are going through and the coping mechanisms they’ve adopted to deal with them; and understanding their concerns and questions that have stemmed from the living in the pandemic. 

Key Highlights 

Based on the discussions and activities, it was understood that the youth are primarily feeling and shifting between four emotions: 

  • Boredom due to lack of engagement with peers or opportunities to go out 
  • Anger to the lack of control over the situation 
  • Anxiety due to lack of clarity about the future 
  • Despair due to lack of hope for a bright future 

Based on a survey carried out during the seminar with the participants, about 87% of the youth accepted to be feeling constantly anxious and pessimist about their future due to the interruption in their education. As many as 68% of the participants said they’re sad, and the last year and a half has pushed them into a stressful place where they’re feeling suffocated. About 53% of the surveyed youth accepted that they find themselves feeling helpless at times, which leads to anger; and 49% of the participants are struggling with boredom due to the frequent lockdowns, restrictions on movement and ambiguity of their future.  

 

Evidently, interruption of education, loss of family income, lack of clarity about the future, increased in domestic abuse and forced child labour were the key stressors for the young people, besides of course the direct impact of the virus on people’s health. Education, however, stands as the top stressor. Adopting the modalities of online education has also been difficult for the students, especially given the limited access to smart devices and reliable Internet connection. The break in their education, they fear, is sure to affect their chances at higher education, competitive exams and practical learning opportunities, including internships and on-the-job learning.  

The direct and indirect consequences of the pandemic has also left the young with several questions about the virus, the vaccine, their families and their future. Some of the key concern areas for the youth were found to be around (See annexure for a complete list of questions): 

  • The efficacy of the available vaccines and myths around it 
  • The impact of the pandemic on education and future careers 
  • The support provided by the government for families who have lost their source of income in the pandemic.

Discussion on Coping Mechanisms 

 

In such times, it has been thus hard for young people to keep themselves motivated or in positive spirits, yet, many of them shared activities that they engage in to keep their spirits afloat, and their ideas around what can young people do to cope with their feelings. These coping mechanisms were shared in feeling-specific breakout groups. 

 

Anxiety: 

  • Young people recognized that taking responsibility for their own health and mental well-being is important in these difficult times. 

  • They shared that making efforts to stay positive and believing in themselves helps them overcome a great deal of anxiety. 

  • To overcome one of the major stressors of anxiety — educational loss — some of the youth took the support of their friends and engaged in peer learning or relied on shared resources. 

  • Many young people also accepted to reaching out to their family about how they were feeling and, thus, seeking emotional support from them.  

  • Quite a few young people agreed that keeping themselves busy and setting a daily routine with dedicated hours for studies, physical exercise, family time and recreation helped them minimize anxiousness. 

  • Several young people also invested their time in learning new skills, discovering a talent or focusing on their hobbies that they earlier did not have time for. This gave them a new thing to focus on and removed them from their worries while at it. 

  • Many of them said that staying positive was crucial to deal with their anxiousness, and to feel positive they helped each other as they saw a sense of purpose in doing so. 

 

Boredom: 

  • Several youths shared that they fought apprehensive and boredom by making good of their free time to cook, dance, make handicraft, learn new languages or get a deeper understanding of the diverse Indian culture. 

  • Some youth, who had better access to Internet connectivity, said they utilized their time and resources to learn new courses related to computers, communication and journalism which could help them in their careers later. 

  • For a lot of them activities like reading books, listening to songs, interacting with family, and painting became the means of relieving boredom. 

  • Some adolescent girls associated themselves with home industries and contributed their time to make masks and sanitary-pads. This helped them feel useful for their community and brought them a small income too. 

  • Staying connected with friends through mobile, playing with children in their neighborhoodand organizing online peer learning sessions allowed them to spend some quality hours in the day. 

  • A few students shared that they had added physical exercise such as jogging, running and workouts in their routine to fight the boredom. 

  • A few of the young people mentioned that they preferred to stay around people who had a positive outlook, as it helped them feel more positive and less demotivated. 

 

Anger: 

  • Several youths said that over a period of time, it became important for them to understand what was causing anger, understanding the triggers and and sharing their feelings with their friends and family in a way to seek support and control their anger.  

  • The youth said that they had to make conscious efforts to divert attention from conversations and things that could trigger their anger, and make forced efforts to calm themselves down. However, sometimes they would lose their cool and act in an aggressive behavior. 

  • For a lot of young people, music and movies helped. For a few others, concentrating hard on their studies proved to be useful. 

  • A few young people share that spending time alone and journalizing helped them channel their anger as well as calm themselves down. 

  • A few of the participants accepted that they used to take out their anger on someone or skip meals when they were triggered, and soon realized that wasn’t the best approach to dealing with their emotions. Instead, they made efforts to be an emotional support for their family. 

  • Meditatingwriting poetry, reading poems, and reading or watching motivational content helped many young people to stay away from negativity. 

  • Empathy and understanding what others are going through also turned out to be a coping mechanism for many, who were able to understand they they’re not struggling alone. 

 

Despair 

  • Most of the young people shared that it was hard to move away from the feeling of despair. However, staying connected with friends and sharing their feelings with each other helped them feel lighter. 

  • Speaking to elders in the family sometimes helped them understand different perspectives and remove the negativity for some time. 

  • A couple of young people shared that they had created ‘Self Love’ corners in their homes, which was filled with things that brought them joy and comfort. Spending a few hours every day in this space, helped them feel happy. 

  • To fight the feeling of despair, a few young people took up exercising as a regular habit, which motivated them stay and eat healthy. 

  • Since many of them were feeling lonely during the pandemic, they also realized the need to be there for each other in these difficult times.  

 

Next Steps 

 
  • As next steps, the 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborative has planned a series of similar consultations with young people across urban, peri-urban, rural geographies to understand their challenges and their needs but to also address their questions and concerns about their present and their futures. 

  • An easy-to-reference document based on the questions and concerns received from these sessions will be shared back with the participants. 

  • Based on the learnings collated through our consultations, and other engagements, a charter of action will be co-created with key stakeholders to provide an action pathway for supporting young people out of the COVID crisis.  

  • We will beestablishing aYouth Working Group, to provide theirperspectives on challenges and solutions for immediate and longer-term COVID responsesfocused on adolescents & youth.  

  • We are also leveraging social and traditional media to raise the adolescent perspective in the mainstream narrative around COVID and beyond.  

 

Annexure: Key Concerns Raised by Young People 

 

Having heard from the participants about their feelings and their approaches to dealing with their mental health in these stressful times, the session also provided them with an opportunity to share their questions with DAC. These questions, which ranged from personal and family to the virus and role of the government, were able to capture broadly what the young people are thinking, what are their concerns, what are the myths that theyve heard and what do they need from the stakeholders that support them. 

 

At the 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborative, we hope to pick up some of the pressing questions and collate answers/recommendations to them over a series of engagements with them and other stakeholders. We also want to use of these questions and suggestion from the young people and take it to the government. 

 

Corona virus and the vaccine: 

  • Can the vaccine be taken along with any other medication the person is on? 

  • Which vaccine is better – Covaxin or Covishield?  

  • Where are these vaccines available? 

  • What are the side-effects of the vaccine? 

  • Should people under 18 years of age take the vaccine? 

  • Can the vaccine be taken during menstruation or pregnancy? 

  • A person needs to wait for how long after recovering from Covid before they can take the vaccine? 

  • People are afraid of taking the vaccine and there have been people who have died after taking the vaccine. What is the reason for this? 

  • What happens if someone is accidentally administered the second dose of the vaccine too early? 

  • Some people get fever after taking the vaccine, but some do not. Why is that? 

  • Want to take the vaccine but the slot is not available in the app or the medicine is not available at the center, what to do? 

  • When will the pandemic end? 

 

Everyday Life and Concerns for the Future 

  • What can be the solution to the impact that is being done on the education of children and youth and they are lagging behind? 

  • Due to the lockdown and the virus, families have been unable to meet each other. How can this be solved for? 

  • Studies have been affected for students who do not have access to the Internet or mobile phones in the village. How can they be helped? 

  • Schools have been closed, there are no online classes that are taking place, but the schools have to be paid their fees. This is big problem for several families. What can be done to stop the arbitrariness of the administration in private schools? 

  • What can be done for daily wage earners whose income has been affected?  

  • What can be done for people who have borrowed loans but are unable to pay the banks because of the pandemic? 

  • People engaged in private jobs are not getting paid, but their household expenses continue. What can be done for them? 

  • Commuting has become really hard, and it’s difficult to access essential services or meet our families. When will things go back to normal? 

  • Many young girls have been married off and their dreams ended in this pandemic. What can be done to ensure it doesn’t happen with more young girls? 

  • What will be the impact of the interruption of our education on our careers? 

 

Suggestions for government and institutions: 

  • Many girls and women have been forced to discontinue their education. The governments should think about prioritizing jobs for girls and women. 

  • Caste-based reservations have made admission into colleges difficult for some groups. Can the benefits be based on a family’s economic capacity rather than their caste? 

  • A third wave is expected. The government should think of efforts that promotes and strengthens Covid-appropriate behaviors at the village level. 

  • When the elections were due, representatives of the government flouted Covid norms and precautions. This should not be allowed. 

10to19 Dasra Adolescent Community (10to19 Dasra Adolescent Community) is an effective platform to share, discuss and work together on the efforts of all stakeholders for sustainable change at the grassroots level. 

Ab Meri Bari Abhiyan is a platform for teenagers to raise their voice and empower themselves through different methods and processes. Now under the Meri Bari campaign, EnterChange Innovation is working to take the voice of adolescents to a wider spectrum. Along with this, Citizen Journalism is also helping in capacity building through programs and sessions related to citizen journalism.