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Climate Anxiety Is Very Real And It’s On The Rise Among Indian Millennials

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WhyOnEarth logo mobEditor’s Note: Are you bothered by the drastic changes in our climate, causing extreme weather events and calamities such as the Kerala Floods? #WhyOnEarth aims to take the truth to the people with stories, experiences, opinions and revelations about the climate change reality that you should know, and act on. Have a story to share? Click here and publish.

By Shikha Sharma

Growing up as an adult in a world facing an environmental crisis has to be terrifying. After all, it’s tough to be hopeful as you watch the world fold in on itself, one climatic disaster at a time.

By now, we all know the details. The snowcaps are melting, cities are flooding, and entire species are going extinct. We have 12 years to save ourselves from impending doom, but corporate greed and political inaction are keeping world systems from making the necessary changes.

It’s almost like staring at the end of a loaded gun. How does one come to terms with all the doom?

Krittika participating in the climate strike. Image provided by the author.

Krittika is 19-years-old and from Assam. Every year, she watches helplessly as Assam gets ravaged by floods, and the government and media do nothing. She rightfully feels angry, and helpless. Away from home, and unable to help out in any way, sometimes, the 19-year-old feels a sense of despondency and dread.

In India, adults don’t even want to talk about climate justice. When you talk to them about climate, they shrug it off. I get it. We are the generation that’s going to suffer, so why should they care? Assam will drown every year, but no one will take responsibility. It’s all so fucked up. But you know, here’s the thing. When the world ends, it will end for all of us. Thoughts like these, sometimes, keep me up at night,” she told YKA.

I met Krittika at a climate strike event in Delhi last month. She is one of a growing tribe of Indian millennials, who I met in the last few days, who are experiencing a heightened sense of anxiety, anger, and helplessness over the environmental destruction happening around them.

When you hear about climate change, mental health may not be the first thing that comes to mind. The link between the two is largely understudied, with the first full report only being published by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2017. In India, we haven’t even begun scratching the surface of the issue.

But the APA report is telling, and many parts of it reflect what many Indian millennials are experiencing right now. For example, a part of the report looks into Solastalgia, or that sense of distress we experience when we lose something that’s important to us to the climate crisis. Also referred to as ‘eco-anxiety’, this heightened anxiety has only one point of worry—environmental destruction—a feeling many young Indians in India can relate to today.

It is also understandable. More than 22 million Indians were affected by extreme weather events in 2017, making India one of the most vulnerable countries to the climate crisis. That may just be a statistic (a startling one at that!) but, closer home, we all know someone or have experienced first-hand the physical, emotional, and psychological effects of breathing in the toxic Delhi air, water pollution in Bangalore, or the floods in Bihar, Assam, or Kerala. Groundwater in Chennai, Mumbai, and Delhi are likely going to run out in our lifetimes, so the situation undoubtedly is alarming.

Shirish is from Mumbai and has lived there his whole life. “It rains every year in Mumbai, but this time, the rains came and decided not to leave. We didn’t see the sun for more than a week. The streets were jammed and waterlogged, and people in the city had nowhere to go. One day, I was stuck in an eight-hour traffic jam. It felt like the city was part of a dystopian movie plot. If this is going to be the future, I dread living in it,” he said.

For Representation Only. Credit: Getty Images

Mansi Thakker, a psychologist at M-Power, Bombay told YKA that she has seen a definite increase in the number of people experiencing stress and anxiety over the potential impact of climate change in the last few years.

According to Thakker, young people may be more vulnerable to eco-anxiety since they are more likely to interpret climate change as a “threatening phenomenon”. “A threat to the planet directly means a threat to their own survival. Evolutionarily, we work on the survival principle and our survival is only possible if the Earth can support us,” Thakker said. She, however, added that the condition is not disabling, and may actually even impel people to adopt a greener lifestyle.

It’s important to reduce catastrophic thinking and look at things in a more realistic way. A popular belief going around is that the world is coming to an end. Realistically though, we know that while the world may be at risk, things are still in our control and measures can be taken to bring about significant changes,” she said.

Manya Nandi is 15 and attends Shri Ram School, Aravali. She is part of the group that is fighting to prevent deforestation in the Aravali, and was a vocal participant at the climate strikes in Delhi. She believes in raising her voice for the environment, instead of uselessly wondering what to do.

Striking makes a difference,” she told me at the climate strike. “Sure, it will not solve our environmental problems suddenly, but it will get the attention of the people in power, the people who can make these policies, who can help us curb these issues. It will tell them that we will not sit quietly, while the big corporations put profit over people.”

There are other ways to channel negative emotions in positive ways. For example, paying closer attention to your carbon front, connecting with individuals and organisations working towards the cause, and adopting a greener lifestyle.

I think there is an urgent need to talk about personal responsibility when we discuss the climate crisis. After all, it is human action and human greed that’s driving emissions, and causing this unprecedented crisis,” Garv, a student at South Delhi Public School, told me.

The bottom-line: It’s not over until it’s really over. And that’s the hope we all need to live by.

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Featured Image Credit: Getty Images
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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