She follows me everywhere. Every day, on my Sajha bus ride back home from college, she creeps behind me almost like a shadow. No one knows my name in my English class, but she does. On the weekends when I laze around my bed on Tiktok, she annoyingly lays right next to me. As I slide into my bed for a slumber, she tugs on my blanket. She tags along uninvited when I hang out with my friends in cute cafes in Durbar Marg. Every Kapil Sharma binge session with my family is inevitably followed by her freakishly loud laughter. After all, she is my stalker and my best friend.

That is how clingy loneliness gets. When my mental health is especially poor, she becomes a dark grey cloud that hovers around my head. She convinces me, with all her might, that I am loathed. She tells me I am friendless when I am among my friends. She always reminds me that my moments of joy are actually hollow. She rips apart my esteem bit by bit like an orange being peeled off in the summers of Kathmandu. I am stuck in this imaginary cage that she has built to trap me in.

Mental health issues have probably existed since time immemorial. But the new generation, or ‘gen z’ as we are named, has the privilege— or burden— of getting diagnosed by professionals. There are no national-level surveys on the mental health of children and adolescents. However, studies have shown that the mental health of 10.7-51% of children in Nepal has been affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder( ‘PTSD’), depression, and anxiety because of the insurgency and civil war where they were child soldiers, homelessness, and the 2015 Gorkha earthquake. have shown that . Many young people have been diagnosed with mental health illnesses including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorders, etc. Diagnosis, however; is a double-edged sword. When you are diagnosed with a mental health issue, you can at least put a name to your distress. Yet, as Michel Foucault, a French philosopher, says that diagnosis of any illness also means the rise of categories like ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’. If you are placed within the ‘abnormal’ category, you would do anything to conform and be categorized into the category of normal. This is especially true with mental health illness.

The stigma around mental health illness never actually went away. Anxiety and depression are kept on a different pedestal than a heart problem or a broken bone. Myths surround the medications for mental health issues as permanently changing your brain chemistry. Slurs like pagal are used to derogate mental health patients. The stigma has cropped up in a different, more confusing form today. There are more conversations around mental health today. Yet, as a young person, your friends and family will often be reluctant to discuss your daily struggle. People around you will dismiss the idea because “everyone has bad days”. The new generation is not exempt from the shame of taking anti-depressant medications or going to therapists, regardless of how ‘woke’ the world acts about mental health. Adolescents have a hard time coming out to their families about their issues because of the denial or dismissal of their illness.

The new generation has it worse when it comes to coping mechanisms too. Narcotics are much more easily available today than before. Tragically, smoking and vaping are also culturally branded as ‘cool’. When you are suffering from mental health issues that make you feel alone and trapped, you can easily fall into toxic coping mechanisms of addiction. Addiction is not just limited to contrabands but also social media. Tiktok, Instagram reels, and Youtube shorts are based on instant gratification, just like smoking. Such addictions worsen your mental health and make you feel like you are not in control. They become escape mechanisms to avoid thinking and processing the symptoms of mental health issues. That is why such addictions worsen your mental health issues making it a sad vicious cycle with no opting out.

While professional support system is incredibly important, they are also not accessible. Cognitive Behaviously Therapy in Nepal costs in the range of Rs 1000-4500 per hour. An effective therapy session requires a patient to regularly visit at least on a bi-weekly basis. A psychiatrist visit costs Rs. 400-1200 per visit and follow-up. When young people suffer from mental health issues, they lack the ability to afford such health care. Most of such demography is students who are not engaged in jobs and, sometimes, also lack support from their family members. Mental Health Care becomes an elitist institution. Yet, it is indispensable to recovery. The right to health is a fundamental right and the biggest barrier for the new generation.

Mental health issues make you feel incredibly lonely. Anyone who is struggling often feels like there is no one who understands. Yet, so many people around you will be going through similar problems. As Gen-Z, we make self-deprecating jokes about our mental health and upload memes on social media about it. Yet, we are scared to really open up, communicate, and ask for help, before it is too late.

There is hope. You are not alone. People around you care about you and want the best for you. You can find support if you look for it. You will be happy again. But, to a large extent, it is also your hands. There will be days when the depressive episode will cripple you down. But you have to fight it out and show resilience. The most basic lifestyle changes that promote self-care make a difference. Sleeping on time, eating food, showering, and working out will improve your mental health. There are safe spaces on the internet, books, and shows that will make you feel less alone in your struggles. There are coping mechanisms: grounding techniques, journaling, deep breathing, and yoga have worked for me. The next time you struggle with emotions, instead of smoking it away, drinking it away, or scrolling it away, just sits with it.

We need to teach the new generation that it is okay to not be okay.

Ameesha Rayamajhi

Ameesha Rayamajhi is a fourth-year law and social science student at NALSAR University of Law, India.

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