India has the largest adolescent population in the world, comprising (approx. 243 million) 21 percent of the country’s population. However, not all is well with Indian youth. Mental health among young people in India is an alarming issue with stiff challenges that must be dealt with on a war footing. According to a Lancet study, India has the highest rate of self-inflicted mortality globally, with most fatalities occurring among people between the ages of 15-29. According to data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) of India, in 2021, 13,089 students died from self-inflicted mortality. In 2019 that number was 10,335, the highest in the last 25 years. This is a frightening scenario, meaning one student dies from self-mortality every hour in India. (wiki).
A recent study in Healthcare (Basel) 2022, says the National Mental Health Survey (2015-16) found how an average of 7.3% of Indians the age range of 13-17 years was suffering from various mental disorders. The problem was almost equal in both genders. Resolving mental health issues among Indian youth is indeed a growing concern with studies estimating that 9.8 million of Indian aged 13–17 years suffer from serious mental illness. Sadly, the impact of mental illness in youth is far beyond the imagination of Indian society, where the awareness about the severity of this the disease is the least.
The Major Factors Impacting Mental Health in Young India
Good mental health ensures a young person grows up emotionally secure without being at greater risk of low self-esteem, poor confidence, or possible psychiatric disorders in the future. However, the world is now larger and more accessible to people. As a result, what might not have been an influencing factor in a child’s life 50 years ago, looms high over their heads today. Moreover, the pressure to perform well academically and meet social expectations greatly affects mental balance. These are some of the major factors impacting mental health among youth in India.
- Academic Pressure: The pressure to excel academically is a primary stress factor faced by Indian youth today. Common issues plaguing students today are excessive stress, performance anxiety, failure, and disappointing their families. The results are panic attacks, emotional disorders, insomnia, low self-esteem, depression, and, in extreme cases, self-mortality.
- Socio-cultural factors: India has a diverse socio-cultural fabric influenced heavily by traditions, religion, and conforming to social norms. This can increase mental health issues, especially in Indian youth. Moreover, mental health in India is often stigmatized, which forces millions of young people to suffer in silence. Many young individuals feel isolated and do not seek help due to the fear of judgment and social repercussions.
- Technology and social media: The advent of smartphones and social media has now exposed Indian youth to an entirely different virtual world, presenting a false the idealized version of reality. Studies have shown how social media platforms can cause mental health disorders like FOMO (the fear of missing out) or the upward comparison where most young people tend to compare themselves to others. All these aspects of social media can foster feelings of inadequacy, comparison, and anxiety, negatively affecting mental health.
- Hostile home environment: Parents are major contributors to the mental well-being of adolescents. A hostile environment at home directed towards a child’s academic performance, social identity, and aspirations is a major reason for anxiety and depression in adolescents in India. Pressure on parents to meet expensive education can sometimes force parents to transfer the same pressure onto their children to do well. It is another way to exact their money’s worth.
Other Factors Impacting Mental Health in Indian Youth
- Substance abuse
- Unwanted Pregnancy
- Nutritional disorders
- Obesity and malnutrition
- Alcohol abuse
- Domestic violence
- Peer pressure·
- Lack of finance for studies
The Challenges of Mental Health Among Youth in India
Social taboos and poor infrastructure are the two major obstacles that discourage progress in supporting the mental problems of our youth today.
Lack of Infrastructure
There is a major gap in the mental health treatment and support level in India. According to the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, there are only 0.75 psychiatrists for every 100,000 patients in India. Despite a rise in mental health issues, the Indian Health Ministry in 2022 allocated less than 1% of its budget to deal with psychological illnesses directly. To fill the gap in psychiatric care in the next 10 years, India would need 2700 new psychiatrists every year, yet every year only seven hundred are trained in PG seats.
Elders often play down mental health issues in Indian youth. It is still grossly misunderstood in traditional Indian households where depression is confused with sadness, thus trivializing the issue. If lack of proper mental health care is one challenge in India, social stigma is close behind. Most Indian families are unaware that mental issues can exist. As a result, comments like “You are too young to understand” and “You are too weak-minded” create a shell around the youth, afraid to open up. Such careless indifference makes it extremely difficult for victims to seek help for fear of being judged by home and society. One of the more concerning challenges negatively impacting the mental health of Indian youth is how obedience is valued more than a child’s interest. Prevailing examples are choice of life partner, choice of career, and even choice of subjects of study.
Navigating Challenges of Mental Health and Building Resilience Towards Overcoming Them
If the challenges of mental health in Indian youth are to be addressed. Then it needs a strong focus on building resilience. This helps individuals adjust to the adversity faced in such problems; it helps them bounce back from setbacks and encourages them to seek help. Strategies to build resilience are:
1. Encourage Awareness
Integrated efforts need to be implemented in homes, schools, and communities to discuss and embrace mental health issues in the same manner as physical health issues. This will eliminate the stigmas preventing most children and adolescents from seeking assistance. Youths need to be educated and informed on recognizing their issue and that seeking help is a sign of maturity, not weakness.
2. Encourage Communication
For a young person to express their mental issues, a safe space must be created to express themselves without fear of judgment. Encouraging open dialogues, group therapy, sharing, and active listening can provide the vital support needed.
3. Improved Support System
Indian youth need a fast-acting support system for mental health support. It must ensure the youth can access and afford professional assistance such as behavioral therapy, counseling, psychotherapy, and medication. Increasing counseling centers in educational institutions, inducting more mental health professionals, and maximum use of digital platforms for remote support are all ways to improve mental health support.
4. Mental Health Insurance
Including mental health care in mainstream medical insurance should be enforced. A step forward is the recent instruction by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) which has made it mandatory for all insurance companies to cover mental health costs within existing insurance plans. (MHC Act 2017).
5. Encourage Coping Skills
Youngsters need to be taught better-coping skills. Often due to family indifference to mental issues, such problems tend to appear confusing to the victims, who cannot process what is happening to them. Empowering those with such issues through education and awareness will do much to reduce the impact of the problem on well-being. The youth can be taught relaxation techniques, meditation, stress-busting, or engaging in hobbies to manage their problems better.
The figures proving how mental health negatively impacts India’s youth’s life are reasons enough to warrant fast and immediate action. Acknowledging the challenges and implementing a good support structure to build resilience will empower the youth to take on their challenges, knowing all avenues of society are supporting them. It will certainly foster a more positive attitude resulting in mentally strong individuals growing into more productive and happier adults.