Shubhanjana Das is a freelance journalist, travel writer and volunteers with MASH Project Foundation. She is a digital nomad and works between travelling, often found reading books and hiking in the mountains.
For Vyaan, 20, an engineering student in Trivandrum, the lockdown last year was as unanticipated as it was to the rest of the country. It upended projects he had planned with his friends as he found himself locked at home with his family in Delhi. "The first few months were hard because we hoped it would get over by next month, so we were just anticipating for things to get okay pretty quick. But we got really disappointed as cases started rising rapidly and the situation went out of control. There were random lockdowns and then I just had to accept that things are going to stay this way for a long time. I stopped expecting that things would function normally any time soon," said Vyaan.
Social isolation, financial strain, and health risk are some of the problems the novel coronavirus has introduced into our lives in the past year. And with the number of cases rising rapidly once again, it has started to feel a lot like March 2020 all over again. From disrupting our 'normal lives' and the daily routines in our academic and professional lives, to the career anxiety induced by the uncertainty, there are multiple ways in which its effects have manifested on the mental health of the youth (15-24 years) who, according to the 2011 Census of India, make up for 19% of India's population.
A narrative review on the mental health impact of COVID-19 on the youth by J Lee for The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health revealed that "the nationwide closures of schools and colleges have negatively impacted over 91% of the world's student population." It also adds that older adolescents and youths are anxious regarding cancellation of examinations, exchange programs and academic events. The lack of socialisation has further aggravated the issues. Moreover, in a socioeconomically disadvantaged country like India, the closure of schools and universities has seriously disrupted adolescent lives, with many young people entering the workplace due to dire straits, possibly never to return to education again.
"I was planning on getting a master's last year but because of the classes shifting online, I decided not to do that and stick to my job at the moment. I am not planning on taking any full-time courses until the education system shifts back to the offline mode again," said Delhi-based Ayushmita Samal, 23, an analyst at the Quality Council of India. "I think it's now after an entire year that there have been repercussions to my mental health due to the uncertainty and the insecurity. I did not feel so until a few months ago because I was in survival mode. The anxiety that the pandemic has brought had superseded any other mental health issues that I was facing at the time, which has led to all these issues piling up and becoming larger now."
The Indian Psychiatric Society has specified that depression, emotional numbness, inability to cope, denial, frustration, emotional outbursts, paranoia, fear, and anger as some of the mental health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also said that the media portrayal of the pandemic has led to a state of constant hypervigilance among people who were anyway spending much more time on social media, leading to the development of various somatic symptoms and panic levels of anxiety. Suicides have been reported from various parts of the world because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"During the lockdown, I wasn't able to earn anything and I had taken a lot of loans for my camera and laptop. So eventually, all my savings were depleted and I had to rely on my parents. I also couldn't pursue my masters as the institutes I wanted to apply to cancelled the admissions procedure last year," said Saubhagya Saxena, 22, a freelance photographer based out of Delhi. With cases spiking again in multiple metropolitans across the country, Saxena says that three of his shoots were cancelled recently, putting him in a financially precarious situation where he says he might have to miss out on paying the rent and return home.
Loss of income, pay cuts, lay-offs as well as endless working hours from home are blurring boundaries between personal and professional life and are having a veritable impact on the mental health of an individual and their relationship with their work life. An analysis of Census Bureau's Household Public Pulse Survey by Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) states that, "Young adults have experienced a number of pandemic-related consequences, such as closures of universities and loss of income, that may contribute to poor mental health. During the pandemic, a larger than average share of young adults (ages 18-24) report symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder (56%). Compared to all adults, young adults are more likely to report substance use (25% vs. 13%) and suicidal thoughts (26% vs. 11%)."
"The current pandemic has managed to greatly impact the mindset or the mental health of everybody, especially young people because these are people who are just starting out in their career or are in a very crucial phase in their lives where they are trying to put everything they have in their jobs to develop their professional identity," said Devika Kapoor, a counselling psychologist based in Mumbai.
She has some advice for the young generation. "Young people are feeling extremely lonely, lost, and very vulnerable. But please do not be hard on yourself. The world has changed and it is putting lots of demand on you from every aspect of your life. Let yourself and your mind not be one of them. Provide that sense of care and sense of nurturing that you require and give yourself some downtime if needed and engage in anything that makes you feel better so long as it's obviously safe for you and other people around you. Do not judge yourself or hold yourself to very high standards because we are all right now trying to exist and survive and that is enough," she advised.
Should you find yourself in a place to reach out for professional help, here is a list of mental health practitioners for young adults at nominal fee/sliding rates or for free.
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