Updated: July 29, 2021 10:12:41 am
There was an urgent need to focus on mental health in discussions and policy making, with particular attention to address the problems of adolescents, said experts at a webinar, ‘Breaking the barriers: Addressing adolescent mental health’, recently organised by ETI (Empower, Transform and Inspire). ETI along with George Institute of Global Health has commenced a series of focused discussions on the subject and the status of mental health in India.
Dr Virander Singh Chauhan, founder, ETI, said the Covid-19 pandemic had had a debilitating impact not only on physical health but also on mental. Adolescents form one-fifth of the Indian population, but were still left out of conversations around access to safe spaces, he added.
He said the shift to online schooling, distancing from peers, and lack of a regular schedule had made an impact on the social and emotional development of young minds. This was also compounded by the fear of losing loved ones and anxieties about their future, and this had a potential of long-term impact on adolescent mental health, he added.
Experts further said online schooling had exacerbated the digital divide, which already existed in the country. According to National Sample Survey (NSS) 2017-2018, only 4.4 per cent rural households have access to computers. Further, only 14.9 per cent rural households have access to the internet. This led to many not having access to online education, which contributed to stress over keeping up with school work and apprehensions about the future, experts added.
Dr Sukriti Chauhan, CEO of ETI, who moderated the panel discussion, said students able to attend online classes also reported issues of fatigue, inadequate attention and loneliness due to lack of social interaction. She said the impact on the mental health of girls was more severe, as the burden of additional domestic work also fell upon them. Girls were also likely to face the challenge of child marriage, which had increased during the pandemic due to economic insecurity, she added.
She also said there were only 0.75 psychiatrists per 1,00,000 people, which was far below the recommendation of at least three psychiatrists. This lack of support, along with the undermining of problems of adolescents, resulted in distress, she added.
Dr Rajesh Sagar, professor, department of psychiatry, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, said society viewed mental health as a taboo. This was especially true for youngsters as it was common for them to negate challenges and consider them as “attention-seeking behaviour”, and that hampered their mental health of adolescents further, he added.