Developed By: iNFOTYKE
A Window to life
By Willie Gordon Suting
Adolescents are, in many ways, capricious. It is the age group when they are open to experimentation. With the advent of social media, it becomes difficult for parents to deeply understand them because considering the generation gap, there is emotional disconnect.
Many adolescents face problems in living up to their peers’ expectations or developing a certain self-image as it is an age defined by group identity. Exposure to social media at a young age means temptations galore.
Also, music videos tend to preach hedonistic lifestyle where deviating from social norms is regarded as being “cool”. In fact, celebrities tremendously impact on the social life of adolescents, many of whom get caught in the labyrinth and lose self-esteem and hope. As they become incapable of expressing their train of thoughts, a conversationist, or professionally termed as counsellor, often helps in opening a window to life.
Phidahun Dkhar, counsellor at Civil Hospital, believes a key factor to disillusionment and despair among adolescents is the lack of support system at the family level.
Counselling is a process where the counsellor develops a bond with his/her client. It is a support system when family fails or does not discuss problems with the adolescent.
The Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK), a comprehensive adolescent health programme of the central government, has come up with free counselling in all district hospitals and community and primary health centres in the state. At present, there are 21 counsellors all over Meghalaya working under RKSK.
The centres are aptly called Friends’ Corners. “The name connotes that counsellors are friends, and does not imply negativity. Help is always there for anyone with problems,” Flourish Lyngdoh, Programme Officer of RKSK, tells Sunday Shillong.
Launched on January 7, 2014, RKSK addresses problems of 243 million adolescents constituting 21 percent of the total population in the country. It defines an adolescent as a person within 10-19 years of age. The vision of the programme is that all adolescents in India are able to realise their full potential by making informed and responsible decisions related to health and well-being.
This programme has six priority areas: nutrition, sexual and reproductive health, mental health, injuries and violence, substance misuse and non communicable diseases.
Adolescents go through social anxiety, and hormonal and bodily changes add to the problem. With sex and drugs being glamorized in films, they turn to them as an escape route resulting in addiction. The counselling centre at Civil Hospital addresses these problems.
Receiving seven to eight clients a day, Dkhar says drugs and HIV are serious issues in the state. “Adolescents are becoming HIV positive by sharing of needles. Also, teenage pregnancy is there from 14 to 19 years of age,” she says.
“This is a busy world where parents spend less time with their children. They trust that their child is doing well with studies, and not engaging in anything wrong. But it is always the opposite,” she adds.
However, she shows some hope saying unlike in the past when youngsters would not consider coming for expert help, now adolescents are aware of the service because of out-reach programmes in schools.
Growing up with evils
Dkhar says there are many reasons for an adolescent to go into seclusion or behave abnormally. She mentions about cases where the patients have developed psychological problems because they are growing up being abused by parents. In turn, they try to alleviate the pain and loneliness with substance abuse and sexual activities.
Christy Najiar, counsellor at Ganesh Das Hospital, says teenage mothers are increasing. “This is a major problem in our state because sex education is not given at the school level. I help teenage mothers with nutritional counselling and regular check-ups”.
The counselling centre at Ganesh Das Hospital specialises in female problems. Services given are free pregnancy tests, condom and contraceptives distribution and iron folic acid supplementation.
“Clients can feel free to share sensitive problems like STDs, HIV, RTI, and menstrual problems,” says Najiar.
Najiar finds women to be emotionally stronger than men. “I have had clients who come here for years who are doing well in their day to day life. I always encourage young mothers to complete their education,” she adds.
Christina Jyrwa says counselling has changed her life. “There was a time when I had low self-esteem seeing negatives in everything. But Dkhar helped me express repressed thoughts and feelings. I now feel liberated,” says the young student who could not afford private counsellors in the city.
Jyrwa says people coming from low socio-economic background cannot afford counselling fee. “But Civil Hospital has helped saved many lives.”
Grey areas remain
Contradicting Dkhar’s view on increasing awareness, Joynercia Muksor, counsellor at Ummulong CHC in West Jaintia Hills, observes that adolescents are not aware that there is help.
“As you know, everything is new to them. There are many bad influences. But the important thing is to sensitise them.”
Social stigma is also associated in approaching a counsellor. Adolescents usually repress their problems, trying to solve by themselves. “There is fear of public perception that one is mad or a lunatic. This way, the problem worsens,” says Dkhar.
Dkhar, Najiar and Muksor have been co-ordinating with various schools, faith-based organisations and community organisations to spread awareness on the fragile nature of the age group. “Some faith-based organisations are now open to discussion on sex. I had also taught life skills in schools,” says Najiar.
The counsellors co-ordinate with specialists through referral and networking system. With medical problems, the counsellors direct their clients to professional doctors. Patients going through emotional and mental problems are being counselled.
“Counselling is a slow process. It is about letting the client speak because it takes time being strangers,” says Dkhar.
Muksor echoes the same adding empathy, compassion and understanding is key.
“We have to put ourselves in their shoes being friendly and open that we are there for them. Confidentiality and privacy is always maintained”, she says.
RKSK & govt’s take
RKSK has been co-ordinating with education, social welfare departments and Meghalaya Aids Control Society. Programme Officer Lyngdoh says, “We want adolescent population to be empowered with informed choices because it is a complex age group.”
More than 33 per cent of disease burden and almost 60 per cent of premature deaths among adults can be associated with conditions which began in adolescents and “we are working on convergence mechanisms, strategic approach of health promotion and forming partnerships”, informs Pravin Bakshi, Secretary of Health Department.
Despite the challenges and the glitches, the Friend’s Corners in the state have given a new lease of life to many youths like Zelda Lyngdoh who says it took her four to five sessions to open up.
“Counselling has helped me
become aware of my strength and weaknesses. The counsellors’
professionalism is laudable,” she says.
For Kyrmen Kharbhih, counselling was a life saver. “I would cry on my own to not inconvenience anyone. Also, I would isolate a lot. But counseling from Najiar had helped reclaim my life.”