The views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of the partners.
By UNICEF Office, Bihar
The current pandemic has undoubtedly affected hundreds of thousands of lives so far across the world. However, some are more vulnerable to the implications than others, such as children, women, adolescents and youth. In my career, having worked with adolescent youth who’ve crossed the age of eighteen, I find that it is so much more challenging to work on resolving their issues. They’re adults but might not have fully matured, or grown stable mentally and emotionally.
Whether within the context of the pandemic or otherwise, mental health among this group remains turbulent. And now, with the pandemic on, almost every other day, my coworkers and I come across stories where a youth suffers from depression, or in extreme cases, even dies by suicide, because they are unable to cope with the pandemic.
This is especially the case when they or someone close to them has been infected or if they’ve been away from studies, home, facing vulnerable situations at home like physical or emotional violence. And it’s not just the youth we work with. This includes even our young doctors and nurses around the world.
My work in Bihar brought me in contact with Ravi (name changed), a youth aged around 25 years, who was born and brought up in a metro city. Domestic issues in his home pushed him to drug abuse for a large part of his late adolescent years. With a lot of difficulties, he had been able to complete his standard 12th exams.
After studies, he became a gym instructor in an upscale neighbourhood. It was during his stint at the gym that he fell in love with a married woman from the neighbourhood, who had two children. She is also a survivor of domestic violence and living in more unsafe conditions within her home during this pandemic.
Unable to reach her and help her during the lockdown, Ravi himself became increasingly violent in his own home. Even his father stopped speaking to him, and he kept insisting on rescuing the woman in question, bringing her to his parents’ house. With no solution to the issue and unable to help her, Ravi’s mental health deteriorated to a point that he nearly died by suicide thrice, and even got in a scuffle with the local policeman. He was almost at the point of getting arrested, after having accidentally hurt a road construction worker.
This was when his mother contacted for help through a common acquaintance. She herself was under severe mental strain, kept breaking down over the call and just wanted to help her son, even though she’d lost her husband’s support on the matter by then. It was a tough situation for me, because I work with children and Ravi wasn’t one. Moreover, he was an adult man, with a rather serious mental health issue, and initially I was quite hesitant to speak with him.
Nevertheless, I started interacting with him. I limited my messages initially, trying to provide whatever little psycho-social support I could within my capacity. I would particularly try and motivate him to do something meaningful rather than fixating on his worries—I tried to get him more interested in working for the underprivileged communities we worked with instead.
It was at this point, in late April/early May, that our organisation received information that daily wage labourers in the same city were starving, without money, jobs or rations. A partner organisation was working on-the-ground to provide relief. They assessed the needs and shared the requirement numbers with us.
Accordingly, we began our relief work: distributing dry ration in a joint initiative with the partners, ActionAid, on-the-ground. On a personal level, I was able to raise some money through friends, and together, we were able to help over 130 daily wagers survive the lockdown.
I got Ravi involved with the cause as well, with the intention that engaging with something this meaningful would help him move beyond his own issues and focus on something else. And it worked! Since he got involved, Ravi has been a critical part of the dry ration packaging and distribution system, and helped hundreds of vulnerable people in the city!
He followed up his good work with more voluntary relief commitments for the worst affected by the Cyclone Amphan. He even helped rehabilitate the woman he had fallen in love with. He now lives with her in their own rented accommodation. Every day, despite small episodes of anxiety attacks, his emotional health is improving.