Sakshi Dhotre, 18, was wrestling with a problem that she couldn’t speak to anyone about. It became serious enough to affect her academic results. Despite being intelligent and scoring well in previous exams, she barely passed her last one. The problem gnawing at Sakshi was her boyfriend’s ‘demand’.
“My boyfriend of two years wanted more intimacy which I was denying for last few months,” she says. “I wanted to focus on my career before making such a commitment. He thought I didn’t trust him which is why I was avoiding taking the relationship to another level. The situation was messy that I started feeling that I would lose him if didn’t give in.”
The intimate nature of her dilemma meant Sakshi wasn’t comfortable discussing the issue with her parents. She suggested the idea of consulting a counsellor to her mother, but her mother didn’t take it seriously. Finally, Sakshi scoured the internet, newspapers and helpline numbers and found one.
She confided in her counsellor readily. “I didn’t hide anything because I knew I was speaking to a neutral person whose advice will not be biased,” Sakshi says. She now feels better after just two sessions. “I am confident of myself now and know how to deal with the situation,” she says.
Sakshi is one of many people between the ages of 18 and 24 who approach mental health experts themselves. Dr Anjali Deshpande, a psychiatrist with Thane Mental Hospital, says, “Out of 100 people coming to us, 10 are college students between 18-24 years who approach us alone. We help them with counselling, but in serious cases we ask them to bring their parents in first.”
Among the issues considered serious are high stress levels, depression, uncontrollable anger and suicidal urges. “Parents’ involvement in such cases is mandatory not only to understand the problem fully, but also to provide support at home,” says Dr Deshpande. An extreme example of how vulnerable the youth are to psychological trauma was the recent incident at Mumbai’s Chetna College, where a boy stabbed a girl and then killed himself. All this was allegedly over a failed relationship.
In this case, college authorities had asked the boy’s parents to enrol him for counselling a month before the incident, after the girl registered a complaint against him with the college and police. Perhaps if the boy’s parents had taken the college authorities’ advice, this would not have happened.
The most common reason for the teenagers and young adults seeking out counsellors and psychiatrists is a broken relationship.
It seems the present generation is finding it particularly hard to deal with the trials and tribulations of romantic relationships. Many are convinced their parents will not understand their issues and if the parents don’t approve of the relationship, the situation at home can become confrontational.
The stigma of seeing a “mental doctor” remains an overarching problem. But in an increasingly-isolated nuclear family, both parents and teenagers may need a little outside help to develop mechanisms to deal with the issues confronting them.
Psychiatrists point out that a large percentage of parents need to be more vigilant and sensitive, especially during a child’s teenage years. Psychiatrist Dr Milan Balakrishnan says, “Most parents believe that youngsters should be strong enough to handle their own emotional problems, thus making it more difficult for them to express their issues.” Brushing things under the carpet will only add fuel to fire, cautions Dr Balakrishnan.