India’s Younger Generation Is

Unprecedented Mental Health Crisis

India’s Younger Generation Is

India’s Younger Generation Is Facing Unprecedented Mental Health Crisis Major Disruption To Young Generation

The world is passing through an unprecedented time. The Covid-19 pandemic is causing massive disruptive changes in many ways. The way we work, connect, interact and socialize with others is getting transformed. In India, not only we are facing economic turmoil of unprecedented magnitude and a major showdown at the international border but also struggling hard to control the spread of pandemics across the states. Also owing to the shutdown of schools, colleges, and universities, there has been a tremendous impact on the young generation. However, this impact is invisible, hidden, and still to be assessed. Over and above, we are not realizing the undercurrent wave of mental health problems, which are taking the shape of another endemic.

India has more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 are facing a mental health crisis and they are the ones who are worst affected. They are in deep uncertainty and suffering from anxiety about their studies and career. They are also part of a highly fragile and vulnerable age. Because they lack mental toughness and very easily get mentally distressed and overwhelmed. It’s clear from the fact that every hour one student commits suicide in India, with about 28 such suicides reported every day, according to data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

Just a month prior to March, 20 when the spread of Covid-19 just began in India, the Lancet, a well-regarded medical Journal published from the UK, published a report relating to mental disorders across the states in India, entitled, “The Global Burden of Disease Study 1990-2017”. The study claims that nearly 197 million Indians were suffering from mental disorders or Mental health crisis, including 45·7 million reported to have depressive disorders, and 44·9 million were suffering from anxiety disorders. These numbers are huge, more than the largest European country, Russia, whose population is only about 146 million. Now imagine, more than half of these cases belong to the young generation below the age of 25 years? This is a mind-blowing problem for the country. Isn’t it?  

It’s a matter of great concern that more than 50% of all mental illnesses begin by age 14 and 75% by the age of 24, according to American Psychiatric Association. Experts are anticipating a surge in cases relating to internet and mobile addiction, depression, anxiety, and suicides. All the more, the social isolation, fear, uncertainty, loss of job in the family, and economic devastation are making things worst. Even prior to the pandemic outbreak, the cases of mental illnesses were rising steadily. In India, we have another problem of not discussing such issues in the family and seeking counseling and therapy. That’s why a large percent of mental health-related cases go unnoticed and unaccounted for in India. This further aggravates the problem.

The World Economic Forum estimated that direct and indirect costs of mental health amount to over 4% of global GDP, more than the cost of cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease combined. This could cost the global economy up to many trillion dollars if this mega-problem is not addressed in time. Unlike developed nations, researchers and policymakers in India are clueless about the spread of problems and costs to the nation. No major study has been conducted in India to estimate the impact of pandemics on mental health and wellbeing.

Since the performance of college and university days determine their future, the students are invariably mentally stressed. Parents’ expectations, the workload of studies, and a hyper-competitive environment contribute to creating severe distress in the majority of the students. However, campuses of schools and colleges are the places where the students are de-stressed. These learning places are the buzzing hubs where students meet and interact with each other. So many extra-curriculum activities to enjoy there. These are the unique places where young minds are nurtured and grown. Now with pandemic around, the students are imprisoned in their homes. They desperately miss their place of education. This is a major reason, why the impact is more severe on their mental wellbeing.   

The UN estimates that the pandemic has affected more than one billion students worldwide. As of mid-July, schools were closed in some 160 countries, affecting more than 1 billion students, while at least 40 million children have missed out on pre-school.

United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres launched a UN “Save our Future” campaign. (Reuters) United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned that the world faces a “generational catastrophe” because of school closures amid the Covid-19 pandemic and said that getting students safely back to the classroom must be “a top priority”. Once local transmission of Covid-19 is under control, getting students back into schools and learning institutions as safely as possible must be a top priority,” he said. “Consultation with parents, carers, teachers, and young people is fundamental.”

Thanks to digital technology, the studies in campuses are replaced by online classes. Since students were already tech-savvy, they adapted fast to the ‘new normal’ and now the world over, students are kept busy with online study. However, the main problem is their attention, un-distracted attention to online classes. As no one is teaching, watching, and interacting with them, in person, seeking the undivided attention from students is a big challenge. In the age of digital distraction, attention is, in any case, a scarce commodity.  

Alarming numbers of users, especially among the younger generation, are excessively using social media. When we use it, there is a direct neurological effect on our minds. Some even say that social media is like the world’s largest slot machine. What a temptation and range of choices we have for those videos and text on these platforms? We are getting overburdened with material which is very difficult to resist. Whatever spare time we earlier had is now going maximum to social media, watching and sharing information in different forms. There are virtually unlimited opportunities for pleasurable content from social media, as well as from the Internet like gaming, videos, movies, porn movies, etc. The young generation gets tempted to use the internet more often.

Indians spend nearly 4.3 hours on mobiles in a day. It was 3.5 hours last year. Students spend from 4 to 7 hours a day on phone. Some even use mobile for more than 10 hours a day. According to a survey, millennials (those who were born between 1980 and 1994) check their phones even more often: more than 150 times per day. Digital obsession is having a wide impact on youngsters’ studies, health, career, and relationships.

That so many students are mentally and physically occupied with social media obviously takes a toll on their studies, which in turn impacts their careers. And as attention to studies decreases, work pressure from parents and teachers increases, and this leads to greater mental stress. Under the circumstances, how can these students be able to focus on their goals and aspirations? It’s a great dilemma that digital technology is helping as well as disrupting the lives of young people. It’s a double-edged weapon, depending upon how we use it.  

There are plenty of things, students can do, not only to make them productively busy but also improve their ability to focus and concentrate on their studies. This will, in turn, make them mentally fit and healthy. Besides, getting adequate sleep, eating healthy food, and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol, the young generation should focus on:    

Get plenty of sleep: it’s really important for our physical and mental health. Sleep helps to regulate the chemicals in our brain that transmit information. Eat well: Eating well isn’t just important for our bodies, but it’s also important for our minds. Certain mineral deficiencies, such as iron and vitamin B12 deficiencies, can give us a low mood. Try to eat a balanced dietAvoid alcohol, smoking, and drugs: Drinking and smoking aren’t things that we always associate with withdrawal symptoms, but they can cause some which impact our mental health.

To manage stress: Stress is often unavoidable, but knowing what triggers your stress and knowing how to cope is key in maintaining good mental health. Try to manage responsibilities and worries by making a list or a schedule of when we can resolve each issue. Activity and exercise: Activity and exercise are essential in maintaining good mental health. Do something that we enjoy: Try to make time for doing the fun things we enjoy. If we like going for a walk, painting, or a specific TV show, try to set aside time to enjoy. Connect with others and be sociable: Make an effort to maintain good relationships and talk to people whenever we get the chance. Having friends is important not just for our self-esteem, but also for providing support when we are not feeling too great. Do things for others: Helping others isn’t just good for the people we are helping; it’s good for us too. 

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Balvinder kumar

I am retired IAS officer and writer of books and doing work for mind therapy.

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