Mental Well-Being On The Decline In India Post-Covid

Between 2020 and 2023, Indian adults in distress or struggling increased by 12 per cent. In 2023, 51 per cent of 18-24-year-olds reported being in distress or struggling

Economic factors fail to explain poorer mental health outcomes among youth; other drivers and risk factors need to be examined. Sapien Labs Centre for Human Brain and Mind at Krea University, India launched a new series on the 'Mental State of India'. This first report examines the state of mental health among primarily English-speaking internet-enabled individuals, with a focus on youth aged 18-24. The report throws light on how the mental health of this group has changed since the pandemic began in 2020. Findings are based on data from 106,427 respondents across 36 States and Union Territories, obtained between April 2020 and August 2023 as part of the Global Mind Project. This is the largest survey of its kind in the country. Almost two years after the pandemic that reduced social interactions, increased unemployment rates, and increased use of the internet and social media, the mental health scores for Indians across age groups (18-74 years) declined between 2020-2023. The decline is steepest among 18-24-year-olds.   

Although the mental health outcomes of the youth are poor, the study does not find evidence that the underlying drivers are economic, as findings are consistent across income levels.

The study also finds much less variation in mental health across states among 18-24-year-olds than older age groups. Moreover, the study finds that the two Southern States of Tamil Nadu and Kerala perform better than the Northern states. Notwithstanding the current media and policy discourse around the role of academic stress and socio-economic factors such as income and employment, the study underscores the need to look at early risk factors that can inform preventive strategies. Moreover, the country's 200 million plus youth population may enter the labour market at a gross disadvantage with regard to functioning effectively. The fact that even the more educated, predominantly English-speaking internet-enabled youth are struggling is cause for concern.

Speaking on the release of the report, Shailender Swaminathan, Director, Sapien Labs Centre for the Human Brain and Mind, India, noted, "Across states in India, we find that youth, considered the "Demographic Dividend" for India, are in increasing distress post-COVID. The current policy paradigm seeks to manage and treat mental health ailments through access to psychosocial support and crisis interventions. Given the sheer scale and complexity of the problem, a more preventative approach may be necessary. As we attempt to "unlock" the potential of youth to spur development, robust data is the need of the hour - to provide early warning signals and inform policy and advocacy efforts. For instance, we have found some evidence in a previously published global report that delaying the adoption of smartphones is linked with better mental health outcomes for 18-24-year-olds. Through these large-scale rapid projects, Sapien Labs India is making an attempt to piece together the country's mental health puzzle and bridge a critical data gap."

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