As part of its ongoing efforts towards hearing from the youth directly about their challenges, needs and prioritize during a pandemic, the 10to19 Dasra Adolescents Collaborative (DAC) and EnterChange Innovations (ECI) organized the third youth consultation with young people from 5 north-eastern states on August 10, 2021. The consultation saw participation from 30 urban adolescents and youth from Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur and Nagaland and Sikkim.
Previously, DAC and ECI has engaged about 130 people from two virtual consultations with young people from Jharkhand, and Bihar and Rajasthan, respectively. 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.
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 were largely broken down into two areas — Understanding the impact of the pandemic on their lives and the coping mechanisms they have adopted to deal with them; and understanding their concerns and questions that have stemmed from the living in the pandemic.
An initial survey among the participants indicated that as many as 71% of the young people attended the session found worry and tension to be their top feeling over the last year and a half of the pandemic. One of the major reasons for this, according to the participants, was uncertainty about the current times and unpredictability about the future.
While speaking to the group, various issues come up. While the safety of one’s health and that of their family was of outmost importance and concern, there were several other factors as well.
Education was one of the major stressors. Most of the students claimed that initially, when institutes were closed during the national lockdown, they felt happy and excited about an unexpected long holiday. However, as weeks passed into months, they started working about the lagging behind on their curriculum, lack of practical or field experience, delays in completing education or starting college, and a drop in quality of teaching and learning opportunities. This roadblock to learning and career led to the feeling of hopelessness among many.
Lack of socializing was another stressor. In the absence of comfort of friends and family, and several students locked in away from their parents, there was higher idle time and increase in negative thoughts about isolation and threat from the virus. Lack of opportunity to step out of the house for recreational activities further added to the feeling of isolation, despair and boredom.
Misinformation about the virus and safety precautions in the early months of the pandemic often added to the stress for young people. There was too much information everywhere, but hard to determine what was fact and what was fake. In the last few months of the pandemic, the problem of misinformation has resurfaced but this time it’s around the efficacy and safety of taking vaccinations.
Fragile mental health was also discussed as a recurring stressor among the participants. Several young people accepted to suffering from mental health issues prior to the pandemic. For most of them, the pandemic was an even more difficult period as they had to deal with the situation alone and at a time when everything outside one’s home was grim. Anxiousness and anger often competing with each other.
As the group engaged with each other on the impact of the pandemic on their lives, they also spoke to each other about how they tried to deal with the situation. And a range of activities and approaches were shared for this purpose.
Learning to spend time with oneself: Several young participants admitted that the pandemic had pushed them into spending time with themselves, eventually making them comfortable with the idea. Many of them believed that they had learnt to slow down and understand themselves better during the pandemic.
Meditation: Meditation, breathing exercises, yoga and exercise turned out to be a popular activity that a lot of young people engaged in. They said that meditation allowed them to stay calm and channel their anger or anxiousness.
Digital detox: A few young people said that at a time when they were disconnected with their loved ones and the Internet full of grim news, staying away from social media apps, messaging apps and news allowed them to re-center and de-stress.
Hobbies: A lot of young people said that they either picked up a new hobby during the pandemic or picked an old one that they hadn’t given time to in a long time. This allowed them to not only be productive and upskill, but also kept their mind away from negative thoughts.
Social Connectedness: As friends and families were forced into physical distancing and physical isolation, many youths mentioned that social connectedness helped them navigate the pandemic and not feel alone. Video calls, online group games, social media and messaging services allowed them to stay connected with their loved ones and provide support to each other.
Peer Learning: A lot of students shared that they used the period of the pandemic to engage in peer learning and support their classmates and friends cover the curriculum and prepare for examinations.
Practicing Gratitude: A couple of young participants shared that practicing gratitude helped them deal with the situation, be grateful for what they have, and show empathy for those who were struggling.
Having heard from the participants about their challenges and their approaches to dealing with the pandemic, the session also provided them with an opportunity to share their questions with the facilitators. 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 they have 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.
Caste-based reservation should be replaced with financial capacity-based reservation in educational institutions
There is a need to relax rules and regulations for the daily wage earners and other marginalized population
Institutions should create a safe space for students to be able to share their experiences of the pandemic