New Delhi, Delhi, India:
ETI (Empower | Transform | Inspire)- an organization working to support the most vulnerable, in collaboration with The George Institute- an organization working to improve the health of millions of people worldwide using evidence-based research and advocacy, organized a panel discussion on July 17th 2021. Conducted online, the discussion brought together a group of public health experts, leading adolescent voices, mental health specialists, journalists and changemakers.
The panellists included Dr Shirshendu Mukherjee, Mission Director, Grand Challenges India, Ministry of Science and Technology; Dr Rajesh Sagar, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, All India Institute of Medical Sciences; Ms Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India; Ms K. Meghana Sampretha, Adolescent Expert Advisory Group Member, ARTEMIS Program; Dr Pallab K. Maulik, Deputy Director & Director of Research, The George Institute for Global Health; Ms Anuradha Mascarenhas, Senior Editor, The Indian Express, and Mr Shanu, Adolescent Expert Advisory Group Member, ARTEMIS Program. Dr Sukriti Chauhan, CEO, ETI moderated the panel.
Adolescents form a total of one-fifth of India's population and face numerous health challenges, be it physical and mental. As per the National Mental Health Survey of India (2015–2016), the prevalence of psychiatric disorders among adolescents (13–17 years) is reported at around 7.3%. These have only exacerbated since the COVID-19 pandemic. While the restrictions have been eased, it has been more than a year that schools and colleges have remained shut and shifted online. Challenges of online schooling, including a lack of access to internet-enabled devices and not understanding what was being taught clearly, were expressed by adolescents as significant challenges. Additionally, there is a digital divide, which is much more expansive in small towns and rural India. Prolonged isolation and exponential rise in internet usage due to pandemic protocols could result in feelings of loneliness due to reduced peer support, and limitation to virtual means is a significant cause of concern.
Dr Sukriti Chauhan welcomed the panellists by addressing the detrimental impact of COVID-19 on mental health, especially for adolescents. The closure of schools, distancing from peers, and uncertainty regarding the future are only a few reasons for increased anxiety and other mental health challenges. There is a need to encourage champion voices and hear from leading experts committed to improving the mental health infrastructure of the country.
In his opening address, Dr Virander Chauhan, Artuto Falaschi Emeritus Scientist and Founder, ETI said, “As someone who has been teaching the youth for many, I understand that their problems are unique and very different from ours. We need to make interventions in the field of mental health and it would only be possible to do so if we involve the adolescent voices and listen to them.”
During the discussion, Dr Rajesh Sagar stated, "Society views mental health as a taboo. This is especially true for young people as it is common to negate the challenges they face and consider it as ‘attention-seeking behavior'. This attitude only hampers the mental health of adolescents further. With the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, there has been a rise in difficulties for the young individuals, given the lack of peer support and school routine, which considerably hinders their social and emotional development."
Dr Shirshendu Mukherjee, Mission Director of the Grand Challenges Initiative, India, talked about the future plans for the organizations' focus on mental health issues in the country. He said, "Grand Challenges has focused on catalyzing innovative health and development research in India, especially in the areas of nutrition and child development. We are working with Grand Challenges Canada to focus on the mental health of adolescents and women in India using a grant-making process."
Ms K Meghana Sampretha, an adolescent, said, "One of the biggest challenges in the society is the disregard of mental health issues. There is a lack of mobility which impacts the abilities to function as was done earlier. Additionally, there are feelings of loneliness, anxiety etc. that many face, especially with the rising family losses that was witnessed in the second wave."
Dr Pallab K. Maulik, the Deputy Director and Director of Research at The George Institute, focused on the need for evidence-based interventions on mental health issues. "The interventions led by George Institute across states in India resulted in community members building the confidence to talk to each other about stressful situations and discuss how they cope with it. Thus, when evidence-based research combined with the correct attitude is used, the stigmatization can be reduced, allowing the starting of conversations around mental health. Additionally, creating spaces for discussion and dissemination of information allow one to bring them into slowly the mainstream. Moreover, there is a need to develop services that can take care of the mental health needs of adolescents requiring such care, providing avenues to speak to a health worker who has the ability to provide such care is important.”
Discussing the impact of COVID-19, especially on girls, Ms Dipa Nag Chowdhury said, “The pandemic has been detrimental for everyone, but there is little attention on the impact it has on young people. The challenges of inadequate education, and teenage pregnancy, among other has been accentuated. When coupled with the closing of educational institutions, lack of mid-day meal schemes, interaction with others beyond the home, peer support, sanitary hygiene, etc. there is a glaring effect on mental health. The economic pressures in both waves will only lead to more young girls being forced into early marriages. This calls for an urgent need to prioritize expenditure on health, education and invest in communication to create awareness.”
Mr Shanu, another adolescent, sharing his personal experiences during COVID-19 mentioned “School closure has really disrupted adolescent lives in India and forced many students into employment. This means that they miss out on their chances to study as they hardly get the opportunity to get back into education. It is crucial we empower adolescent voices and create safe spaces to listen to them.”
ETI and The George Institute plan to hold many such conversations.
ETI signifies an 'arrival/approach'; with an aim to create safe and equitable access to health and security. ETI follows an approach of 'leave no one behind', emphasizing access to services for all, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized. ETI tracks the ever-evolving landscape of health, science and development priorities in India and across the globe to provide competitive strategies and ideas for impact. We believe in evidence-driven interventions to ensure that the most effective solutions available are employed, with the aim of enhancing program outcomes. To this end, ETI works closely with multiple stakeholders, including decision-makers, media, communities, technical experts and well-known champions. Our work is guided by in-house experts with over three decades of experience in government technical advisory, strategy
development, and academic research.
For more information on ETI, please visit www.etiservices.org
About The George Institute
The George Institute is a leading independent global medical research institute with the mission to improve the health of millions of people worldwide, particularly those living in disadvantaged circumstances, by challenging the status quo and using innovative approaches to prevent and treat non-communicable diseases and injury. It focuses on the global health challenges that cause the greatest loss of life, the most significant impairment of life quality and the most substantial economic burden, particularly in resource-poor settings. They use research, advocacy/thought leadership, and disruptive social entrepreneurship to drive global impact.
For more information on the George Institute, please visit www. georgeinstitute.org
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