Nepal is sitting on a mental health time bomb. According to Niti Foundation’s new ‘Youth Anxieties, Perceptions, and Activism’ survey, of the 2,000 youths (1,100 men, 990 women) aged 18-40 surveyed across all seven provinces, 84 percent reported being anxious due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The level of anxiety was more or less the same across caste and ethnic groups, and between men (83 percent) and women (85 percent). The level of education had little impact as well. Nearly half of those working, both in formal and informal sectors, reported moderate levels of anxiety, while nearly a third of them reported high anxiety levels.
“During the 2015 earthquakes, around 70 percent people directly affected by them reported mental health issues,” says Jagannath Lamichhane, a mental health campaigner who is also the coordinator of the Niti Foundation survey. “The impact from the Covid-19 is much bigger. This time they are not just worried about their health but also about their future economic status.”
Dr Saroj Prasad Ojha, head of the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital at Maharajgunj, says the survey’s findings are in line his observations. “I too have seen a significant increase in cases of anxiety in the 18-40 age group.”
Why so? “This age group closely follows local and global media and is greatly concerned not just about their health, but also about the security of their jobs and education,” says Dr Ojha. Hence the increased anxiety levels. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in Nepal Dr Ojha has also seen an alarming rise in cases of depression, substance abuse and sleeplessness.
Lamichhane points to another important part of the survey report. It shows that the youths who report the highest levels of anxiety are also the most dissatisfied with their government. “They are angry that the politicians are doing nothing to improve their situation,” says Lamichhane.
Lamichhane says the government needs to do more and many youth need immediate economic support. “Even in our neighborhood, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have done a lot more to support their Covid-affected people financially than has Nepal,” he says. Lamichhane says the government should also make greater use of social media to spread positivity in place of the toxic news that pervades it right now.
Dr Ojha says the government can help by disseminating content emphasizing healthy lifestyle choices. For instance, the anxious folks should be encouraged not to spend too much time online, to keep their social connections intact and maintain a healthy lifestyle. If they do these, most of them will need no medication to be cured.
The psychiatrist says it is not difficult to find professional help if you keep looking. Even during the times of restricted public movement, people can arrange online counseling and consultations.