Mental health matters – and here’s what we can do to help

sucharita iyer

We’re finally starting to prioritize young people’s mental health and well-being. However, we still have a long way to go. In the meantime, we need a perspective shift towards mental health.  

Awareness and action to address mental health issues are growing rapidly in India, with the need for increased awareness and better mental healthcare services at the fore. However, these conversations often leave out the critical demographic of young people. As a result, they remain largely  under-addressed when it comes to mental health.  

Presently, every fifth Indian is aged between 10 and 19. Adolescence is a particularly vulnerable period, owing to the significant developmental and psycho-social changes that characterize it. Adolescents’ lives are shaped by this transitionary phase as they enter adulthood, marked by new and unprecedented social and emotional experiences. It is also often overlooked that this stage is one of increased vulnerability to mental health issues , owing to rapid changes in peer relations and interests, physical and biological changes, and ambiguity in various aspects of life, ranging from education to career prospects and the future. The National Mental Health Survey (2015-2016) indicated that over 9.8 million teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 live with depression. Often precipitated by social and cultural stressors, young people’s mental health issues are rarely identified and poorly addressed and can have significant and lasting consequences.  

That there is social and cultural stigma around mental illness is well-known. Misinformation around mental health accompanied by limited resources to adequately treat it are commonplace. The pandemic has significantly exacerbated the existing mental health challenges among young people. A study conducted by the 10to19: Dasra Adolescents Collaborative (10to19) in June 2020 indicated that young people have reported increased rates of  depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide over the course of the pandemic. Of the 111 responding organizations, over 46% of organizations found that young people were experiencing fear and anxiety, and 41% of young boys and girls reported feeling afraid for their futures.  

More recently, a consultation conducted by the 10to19 Collaborative with young people gave voice to some of their most urgent mental health concerns. Over a year since the pandemic began, young people continue to experience various stressors, exposure to which has left them feeling disconnected from their peers and their regular lives. During the session, nearly all young people echoed that they currently feel despair and anxiety, whether about the pandemic or, in fact, about their future in the years to come. 

Most young Indians are still facing the impacts of long-term social isolation and experiencing their world digitally – or worse – are completely cut off from their education due to skewed and uneven access to the internet. Removed from otherwise nourishing environments, they are now left without livelihoods and access to critical resources, leaving them with unanswered questions of what the future will hold.  

Where do we go from here? 

The accounts shared by young Indians highlight the complex, multi-faceted emotions that they are experiencing; from fear due to the pandemic, to despair and anger when faced with unraveling its long-term consequences on their educations, livelihoods and family lives. However, despite the anxiety, loss and grief that have defined the past few months, they have also shared important stories of resilience and learning, highlighting the new skills they have built and the creative ways in which they’ve learnt to connect with one another and their families.  

We are still only just beginning to understand the ways in which COVID-19 has impacted a generation of young Indians. The pandemic has severely affected education and job prospects, leaving a vast number of young people with pressure to provide for their families. Long-term isolation is also likely to hamper young people’s social skills, leaving them unable to connect with peers or adults or to build adequate coping skills. Young women continue to bear the burden of care work, often without access to education and at increased risk of child or early marriage. The toll of these factors on young people’s mental well-beingis likely to be immense; iIt stands to reason, then, that we must shift our approach to mental health programming, addressing it intrinsically in everything that we do.  

Much like we address gender sensitization, it is imperative that we adopt a lens of mental wellbeing when designing and implementing programs, reminding ourselves that young people’s health cannot be isolated from every other facet of their lives. It is only then, that they will be able to not only seek gainful employment – but also sustain it. That they may make informed and active choices about their bodies and wellbeing, and that they can 

This lens needs to be holistic and integrated into our understanding of youth-centric programming, giving them patience and compassion as they navigate a difficult time globally and in their own lives. The responsibility of this shift lies on all of us – civil society, the government, funders, and their families – to unlearn the disinformation of the past and ensure that India’s adolescents have access to a better, brighter future. 

Reference Example for easy understanding

Table 1

The policy gap(s) addressed by the program

The exclusion of young people in the decision-making process for policy issues surrounding adolescents

Community need(s) addressed by the program

Greater awareness and understanding of adolescent issues regarding their education, sexual and reproductive health, and early marriage

Opportunity for innovation addressed by the program

The opportunity to bring and work together with critical stakeholders on a single platform

Table 2

Day-to-day program activities

Stakeholder management, vendor management

Periodic program activities

Monitoring, Reporting, Training of Personnel

One-off program activities

Government advocacy, designing campaigns

Tools/frameworks/systems & processes/ways of working from the program

Systems Change Framework

Table 3

Program practices

Is the practice impactful? If yes, list down why?

Is the practice sustainable? If yes, list down why?   

Is the practice scalable? If yes, list down why?  

Is the practice innovative and/or unique? If yes, list down why?  

Youth-led social audits and presenting youth-centric priorities directly to decision makers

Yes, as it allows young people to directly engage with decision makers and contribute to the decision-making process

Yes, as it equips young people with leadership skills. It is also cost effective due to the long-term gains it offers upon initial investment

Yes, as such training modules can be replicated across multiple initiatives by other practitioners & organizations. In addition, trained young people can also train other young people

Yes, as it follows an approach which centers its design and delivery around young people, in an end-to-end manner

+

+

+

+

+

Table 4

Promising Practice

Youth-led social audits and presenting youth-centric priorities directly to decision makers to: (i) create a platform for youth to exercise their agency (ii) effectively engage decision makers

Source

  • Verbal evidence from community
  • Verbal feedback from on-ground team members
  • Project report & surveys

Details

Community feedback of adolescents feeling confident, understood, and acknowledge

On-ground team feedback on creation of government champions for the project’s objectives

Project report and surveys observe greater youth involvement and efficacy in engaging directly with decision maker

Table 5

RECOMMENDATIONS

Promising Practice

Youth-led social audits and presenting youth-centric priorities directly to decision makers to: (i) create a platform for youth to exercise their agency (ii) effectively engage decision makers

The demographic it addresses

Adolescents from the age of 10 to 19 years

The gap/ need/ opportunity it addresses

The exclusion of adolescents and young people in the decision-making process for policy issues regarding adolescents and young people

Govt stakeholders

Holding consultations with critical stakeholders and young people from the inception of a program

Funders

Taking inputs from all stakeholders and young people before initiating a new project to ensure a deeper visibility and understanding of their demographic and its needs

Other Practitioners

Engaging young people in decision-making processes to adopt a more collaborative approach between stakeholders and young people

Community Stakeholders

Undertaking youth-led social audits and engagement with decision makers to engage directly with young people, understand their needs & concerns and influence change at the community level

5

Objective Review

Outcome

Promising Practices and recommendations ratified by at least one member/ partner organization/ community/ MEL partners outside of ‘the team’

5

Objective Review

Objective

To validate the final promising practice and recommendation(s) by at least one person/ partner organization/ community/ MEL partners outside of the team.

4

Document

Outcome

2-3 promising practices documenting:

 

  • What gap/need is addressed
  • How it is addressed and the change that is created
  • The potential for replicating along with recommendations for implementing

4

Document

Objective

To document the promising practices in a detailed manner

3

Develop into a recommendation

Outcome

Well-articulated recommendation(s) addressing:

 

  • Demographic to cater to
  • Gaps/needs/opportunities addressed by the practice
  • The change brought in by implementing such a practice

3

DEVELOP INTO A RECOMMENDATION

Objective

To construct a recommendation in a brief, specific and clear-cut format which would assist other initiatives in implementing the same

2

CALIBRATE & SUBSTANTIATE

Outcome

Obtaining qualitative and/or quantitative data to assess the promise of the shortlisted practices according to the five guiding factors

Arriving at first list of promising practices

2

CALIBRATE & SUBSTANTIATE

Objective

To substantiate the shortlisted practices by collating gathered data in the form of:

 

  • Feedback from the community
  • Verbal accounts of the ground team
  • Documentation reports
  • Other valuable data

1

List & Shortlist

Outcome

Identifying:

  • Policy gaps
  • Community needs
  • Opportunities for innovation and other aspects that the program is addressing.

    Creating a list of program practices that are working on-ground in bridging gaps/needs/opportunities.

1

List & Shortlist

Objective

To identify gaps/needs/opportunities and to shortlist program practices that are impactful, sustainable, scalable, innovative and/or unique.