S02E03: Reframing adolescent mental health

In conversation with Dr. Praveetha Patalay, Professor, University College London

Or listen here:


Sound: Children playing in the streets.

Arpita: You know lately I’ve been doing an inventory of the sorts of things that turned up again as a vague sense of normalcy seemed to return. Just sights and sounds I didn’t hear around me through those periods of lockdowns and restrictions. Of course noone was missing the traffic which is back now – but it struck me one day rather suddenly that one of the nicer sounds to be interrupted was that of kids playing outside – in the community and around.

Deepika: Oh yeah totally – my community has this little gang of girls who play football and cycle together and what not – super active teenagers – and watching them confined through the last few years has been really sad to see.

Kristen: When will this end? Are we at the worst part of the pandemic? Is it gonna get worse? And when is the next time I can actually go out and leave my house? I mean you can do that now, but you’re still running a huge risk. So when will the risk be so low that I can actually go and be like – I’m free!

Deepika: That is my neigbhours 11-year old daughter, one of the members of that little gang – Kristen – who we spoke to during the first lockdown in 2020 – you can hear from her voice what it felt like to be stuck indoors and just the uncertainty that has constantly been a part of all our lives in the last few years.

Arpita: And to think 2020 was just the beginning of it all – she’s done a great job there of putting to words what we’ve all felt at some point or the other through the last few years – whatever our age! But you know as the months turned to years – just seeing my nephews and my friends’ kids growing up with all these million restrictions, one can’t help but feel bad for them – it’s been particularly difficult for kids hasn’t it?

Deepika: Absolutely. Even the 2021 United Nations State of Children’s Report put a spotlight on children’s mental health considering all the stresses children are undergoing. It highlighted the need for ‘Promoting, protecting and caring for children’s mental health’ because as they put it ‘the pandemic may represent only the tip of a mental health iceberg – an iceberg we have ignored for far too long.’

Arpita: Yeah I think in the spirit of doing just that – you know understanding and thinking deeper on children’s mental health and larger well-being, present and future, it just made perfect sense to speak with Dr. Praveetha Patalay.

Praveetha: Hi, my name is Praveetha Patalay. I am an Associate Professor based at University College London in London.

Arpita: Praveetha uses large national studies to investigate mental health through a person’s life course and her recent research has highlighted the increasing levels of mental health difficulties faced by the current generation of young people in the UK.

Praveetha: And I mainly research population mental health. So I’m interested in everybody’s mental health across the whole spectrum from good mental health to mental illness. And I am also interested in mental health across the life course. So that means I’m interested in how the same person’s mental health develops as they.. from when they’re a young child to the rest of their lives.

And I study inequalities in mental health, so, you know, who is more likely to suffer with poor mental health, but also the sort of things we might do to improve mental health, both in terms of reducing illness, but also promoting well being?

Deepika: I do want to say that I’m really looking forward to what Praveetha is saying there in terms of not just being interested in illness but also wellness.

Arpita: Oh yes – understanding the whole spectrum of possibilities for children’s mental health is quite exciting. Looking at wellness also helps us think what we need to change, how we can do things differently for kids to not just be illness free but genuinely happy!

And also the bit about studying inequality stands out to me – in the last decade or so the psycho-social approach is garnering more and more support amongst professionals – it’s an approach where we look at both the individual and their social contexts to begin to understand more holistically their physical and mental wellness and ability to function.

Deepika: It seems pretty intuitive really – doesn’t it – that an experience of living in uncertainty or oppression can lead to higher stress and pressures on an individual.

Arpita: Yeah it seems intuitive but strangely it has taken it’s time as an idea but i am glad that we’re really beginning to see work that puts together the experiences of illness, vulnerability and inequality.

Deepika: And this in the context of children – how did she get interested in the wellness of children?

Arpita: She said she had always been interested in children’s development.

Praveetha: Your childhood is such an interesting and sort of important stage of life. And I think the reason I studied or came to mental health, is because I think I mean, obviously, it’s really sad when anybody has very poor mental health. But I think when children have very, very bad mental health, I think it’s a really sad thing, because childhood is meant to be a period of, you know, learning curiosity, growth and joy. And if you’re really struggling, instead, yeah, so I think that’s why I’m interested in mental health. That’s how I got interested in mental health, through wanting to try and improve children’s mental health.

Arpita: And it’s not just that poor mental health has repercussions during childhood where it can disrupt the child’s immediate functional life, but also what’s been observed is that poor mental health at a young age can have repercussions within one’s lifetime.

Praveetha: So I think they’re really important the first few decades of life, I mean, so for 80% of people who have sort of mental health difficulties through their lives at first, appears in adolescence. So before the age of 20. So for most people, mental health difficulties are adolescent onset. So I think focusing on this phase of life, if we’re really interested in prevention, and helping before problems, because the way the health system works, is we wait for people to get really ill and really struggle. And only then, you know, sometimes offer help even not all the time, like even the health system doesn’t have the capacity to help everyone struggling with their mental health.

Deepika: Yeah of course that makes paramount sense, we’ve heard that adage forever haven’t we – prevention is better than cure!

Arpita: And childhood can be such a critical and foundational period of life really – Praveetha pointed out that the domino effects of poor health early in life can be far beyond the domain of health – it can affect all elements of your life.

Praveetha: So I think from a prevention perspective, adolescence is really important, but also from a sort of consequences perspective, because if you.. health generally not just mental health, but also mental health, in early life has lifelong consequences, not just for your health, but also for, you know, your labour market outcomes, your relationships, your, you know, social outcomes, your economic outcomes. So, I think, again, so it’s interesting, I think, childhood and adolescent are interesting because if you really want to understand the risk factors, and you know, things that lead to young people struggling with their mental health, that’s when you, that’s when you should look, because for most young people, that’s when it starts. But also, if you really want to help and prevent, that’s when you should look as well.

Deepika: I think it can’t be said enough – children’s emotional well-being is just as important as their physical health cause good mental health can help them develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults.

Arpita: And you know Praveetha emphasised why it’s important to study the full spectrum from illness to wellness as you put it cause being healthy is not just the absence of illness – things can be more complicated.

Praveetha: Health, like all of health is not just about the absence of illness. It’s also about good health. So for example, you could not have any chronic illness, but still not be very healthy. But equally, you could have asthma or type one diabetes and you could be an international sports star. I think with mental health is the same. Just the absence of disease, doesn’t mean you’re mentally healthy. So although the focus in mental health tends to be very much on illness, even if you didn’t have illness, you still want good mental health. So I think it’s the same sort of distinction as you would make for health more broadly speaking. And this is reflected in how, for example, the World Health Organisation and stuff define health, health has always been defined not just by disease, it’s more than the absence of disease.

And there’s so much obsession with like increasing life expectancy and stuff. And always think, what’s the point of living longer if you’re not living, you know, better, more well, and happy lives? And nobody seems obsessed with how we can live more well and happy lives.

Deepika: That makes infinite sense, and you know as simple as it seems to say that one must map the whole spectrum of things – how does one actually do it? I imagine it can get pretty complicated.

Arpita: Yes, Praveetha shared how the way one goes about defining the two concepts for research, differs.

Praveetha: Yeah, so if you think about mental ill health and well being from a research perspective, it would involve sort of mental ill health would tend to focus on symptomology. So symptoms of depression, symptoms of psychosis, whereas well being tends to focus on for example, life satisfaction. So how satisfied you are with your life, flourishing, how worthwhile you think your life is. So well being it’s not just happiness, it’s much more than happiness. It’s, you know, feeling like you have meaning and purpose and doing things you want to do. So in research, you sort of, I guess, mainly differentiate between them, at least in data by the way you ask questions about them.

Arpita: And in terms of the actual questions it would be something like this –

Praveetha: Imagine a measure of psychological distress, they will tend to ask you questions around symptoms of depression, anxiety. So for example, you know, low mood, or whether they are feeling not worthwhile and feeling anxious, and worried and tense, low energy, you know, fatigue, all of those sort of symptoms. Whereas well being measures will tend to ask you questions, like, overall considering your life how satisfied are you with the way things are going? How worthwhile do you think you know, how worthwhile you feel your life is and that type of thing.

Deepika: We don’t often really think about it quite like that na. I mean as I’m listening to Praveetha I am trying to just think of how I would go about responding to such questions – and while the illness ones seem easier to respond to because you know usually a person can explain what they might actually be going through, but how many of us actually really consider what might constitute a meaningful life for us.

Arpita: Yeah it’s an approach that makes things much larger than the immediate right. Here, we are also trying to pro-actively imagine what a good life looks like and how we might wish to chart a path to it. These are questions that require contemplation – it’s funny now to think how we don’t ask ourselves these questions more often really!

Deepika: But frankly I can’t help but think how each of us is a unique combination of such variables – we all kind of lie in that grey area between illness and wellness – a mix of both I suppose!

Praveetha: What you find with this type of data is, as you can probably imagine, they’re not exactly the opposite of one another, so you can have people who are struggling with their mental health might have symptoms of depression, anxiety, but equally think that life’s worthwhile and is satisfied with the way things are going. And equally, you could have people with absolutely no symptoms, but who still don’t think their life is worthwhile, or you know, what they’d like to be. So the absence of symptoms in data doesn’t seem to correspond with high well being. And similarly, the absence of well being doesn’t necessarily correspond with mental illness.

Deepika: I think as someone who has worked in the development sector I can quite relate to that – there are days when you’re cursing the state of the world and the largeness of difficult issues yet there is meaning in the work you do of supporting even one individual – in the small actions you are able to take. Somehow contradictory states of mind and emotions they all co-exist within us!

But you know if each of us is indeed such a mix – how do we really begin to understand which elements of life to cover under the idea of what constitutes well-being?

Arpita: I think trying to define these grey very large concepts can be challenging for researchers but as Praveetha explained it – they’ve taken an approach where they try their best to let people express how they feel about their lives without bracketing them under one notion or idea of what constitutes well-being.

Praveetha: I really like the life satisfaction questions though, because they don’t make any assumptions about what satisfaction is, like what your satisfied life needs to look like. So it’s not making assumptions about, you know, relationships, work, because everybody’s definition of their life well lived would be very different. So in some ways, just saying, thinking about your own life, are you satisfied with where it is? I think it’s actually probably better than trying to pin down specific things and ask people about their relationships and their, I don’t know, their jobs and whatever else. Because for people, you know, you don’t know how much those things are salient for different people. So it’s almost, I think, better to have a general question.

Deepika: So I think that gives us a good sense of the structure Praveetha has been using for her research work. Understanding that structure I think helps one understand the outcomes also little bit better – so tell me did Praveetha say what the research has been telling us about the nature of adolescent mental health?

Arpita: She broadly outlined what’s been emerging from research about the state of adolescent mental health across multiple countries in the last few years.

Praveetha: If you take a long temporal view of trends, there is suggestion from data for many countries, obviously, some countries have better data than others. But that more recent generations of young people having worse mental health than prior generations. I think there’s also other trends in parallel with that, that are sort of what sort of noting which are around for example, things like health more broadly. So sleeping behaviours, weight, physical activity, so lots of things that are sort of all trends all developing in the same direction. So and there’s other things that you could argue, are better health outcomes. So less young people, at least in countries like Britain and the US are smoking and drinking than was previously the case. So it’s not like all all health determinants are sort of changing for the worse, but mental health does seem to be getting worse.

Arpita: As she’s based out of UK, she pointed particularly to the trends being seen there in terms of mental health across generations.

Praveetha: So if you look at generations, born in the 50s, compared them to people born in the 70s, and then to people born in the 90s. And then in the 2000s, you see generation on generation, teenagers having higher levels of sort of depressive and anxiety symptoms, also tending to have higher levels of sort of self harm and self harm behaviour. So yeah, it seems to be it seems to be a sort of trend that has been going for a few decades.

Deepika: I wonder how this compares to trends in countries like India –

Arpita: Well interestingly Praveetha did point out how trends for some countries are easier to figure versus others simply because of data collection and availability issues.

Praveetha: As far as I know, the trend seems to be the case in most countries, as I also alluded to, though, obviously, some countries have better mental health data than others. So the sort of quality of evidence may not be equally strong. However, it does seem to be the case, in most places, whether it’s low and middle income countries or high income countries, generally, mental health research happens much more in high income countries than lower and middle income countries. So the sort of research capacity in low and middle income countries for mental health research is very, very low.

Arpita: In India, a National Mental Health Survey was first undertaken only as recently as 2015-16. The report showed that 7.3 percent of those in the 13-17 age group had mental disorders – and that’s nearly 9.8 million people. The rate was similar for boys and girls. But a trend will emerge only once we have more such large scale national surveys in the coming years. Praveetha also pointed out how most of this research is done by psychiatrists and often in countries like India there’s a paucity of people qualified to do this research.

Praveetha: If you think about number of psychiatrists, in a million people, the numbers are very, very small in most parts of the world. And so there isn’t sort of the research capacity or interest in mental health, broadly speaking, not just young people’s mental health, and even if there was it’ll probably mostly in adult mental health, because that’s how it tends to be. Adolescent mental health has traditionally been very sort of overlooked and underserved, even in high income industrialised countries.

Deepika: So one big gap is that there’s been little research done on adolescent mental health, world over. Not just research in fact, it is an issue which hasn’t got its due attention. And this is of course one of the big points the UN State of Children’s Report 2021 is also making – it points holistically to the poor investment by State’s across the world in building systems that respond to and support children and lobbies for that to change.

But you know as someone who has worked on issues of child rights, I am also curious, how does one do this kind of research with kids? Cause you know adolescence itself is such a big age group – depending on how you want to define it, it can be anywhere in the age group of 10-20 years old and with each year one experiences massive shifts in physical and emotional growth.

Arpita: Yeah a 13 year old is quite developmentally different from say a 17 year old – so the question of who reports and how one reports on children’s mental health is a really valid one.

Praveetha: I think it’s a really important question. So for a long time, most researchers used proxy reporters or somebody else usually parents, sometimes teachers. And I think that’s a problem. Young people can tell you about their mental health if you ask them in age appropriate ways. If you ask me, teenagers probably can tell you about their mental health better than anybody else. I mean, it’s the same thing for adults, right? I think about adult mental health. Nobody’s asking the adult’s mother, or their partner or their child about their mental health. And I don’t understand why at the magical age of 18, you can ask somebody, but you can’t ask them when they’re 17, or 16.

Arpita: Having worked closely with children I find it so funny now to imagine that one would ask a parent what’s happening with the child – cause I think half the time that’s the question most parents are asking themselves! Teenagers are a mystery to most adults in their lives.

Deepika: Totally! I can well imagine Praveetha’s frustrations as a researcher dealing with that bias!

Praveetha: I remember when I was in my, when I started doing child mental health research, I was in my early 20s. And I went to this talk by, you know, senior professor, who presented all parents reported data and said something about, you know, why they wouldn’t use teenagers on reports, and these are 15 year olds, so that, you know, they’re not small children. And so I asked, ‘Why don’t you ask the 15 year olds themselves about their mental health?’, and I paraphrase a bit, but they said something along the lines of they’re teenagers, what do they know?

Deepika: We don’t like it when someone speaks for us, so why do we assume it’s ok to do so on behalf of teenagers?

Arpita: Clearly Dr.Seuss all those years ago was trying to say something vital both to children and on behalf of children with his very famous line from the book ‘Horton hears a who’ – a person’s a person no matter how small!

Deepika: I love that line and really – It is a question to ask ourselves not only as researchers but as any adult engaging with children – just why not listen to the children themselves?

Arpita: Listening to children, is also at the heart of the most important document on children’s rights – the UNCRC or the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – where Article 12 states explicitly that it is the ‘right of all children to be heard and taken seriously’.

Praveetha: Listen to children, talk to them. Spend time with them. But also, when they tell you something, take it seriously. Because you know, I think often there is just this sort of prejudice and arrogance that what one – what do young people know? And when they tell you things to not take, not take it fully seriously. And I think if you’re just tempered that sort of were more mindful of it, and sort of ignored the prejudice when young people told you things and took it seriously. I think it would, you know, make young people’s mental health research, but also many things – much better.

Arpita: And you know what it reminds me of was how women also faced and in some cases still face this situation where their agency and voice is not acknowledged – it has taken a long and hard fight which continues till date to have women speak for themselves and from their own experiences.

Praveetha also emphasised how this is very similar in the case of children but she had an additional really important point from the perspective of a researcher.

Praveetha: I just think is really important to do good research to understand, to ask young people themselves about how they’re feeling, just as it’s important to ask adults, and nobody questions that, but also often what we know from where you ask children and their parents, their parents, really the so the correlation between the parent reported symptoms, and the children’s on symptoms is very low. Like, so bad.

So it’s not only sort of, I think, arguments around children’s rights and ethics and perspective being important, but also genuinely the data is bad, like, you know, to rely on somebody else to report on a young person’s mental health just leads to bad data. So there’s many reasons why I think it’s important to ask young people about their own mental health.

Arpita: With this approach of valuing the voice and agency of children at the heart of the research, the process of building the research questions itself shifts.

Praveetha: It’s just about thinking about age appropriate wording and understanding right. So if you use adult words with a seven year old child, they’re unlikely that they’re more likely to struggle with it. So for example, we did a study recently pandemic, in Jharkhand, to try and validate mental health measure with adolescence so secondary school children. And so as part of that, obviously, we did sort of more work with experts and teachers, and psychiatrists, and so on. But we also had like, focus groups with school children, to basically be like, okay, when you answer this question, what are you thinking about? And what do you understand from these words? Like, how do you interpret this? Just to make sure, it was, you know, words and interpretations that was what they would use. So it’s not, I don’t think it’s highly complicated to try and make and use measures that are for young people. All that, again, all it takes is to spend some time talking to young people to make sure that measure captures what you think it’s capturing, and it’s well understood by young people. So it’s not yeah, it’s not sort of something that is so hard to do.

Deepika: I really love how the process is in partnership with the children – I think we all do this in so many ways almost intuitively when we engage with the kids around us as their parents, teachers, guardians and caregivers – so there’s no reason that research enquiries can’t be reworked alongside children to truly understand their thoughts and experiences too!

Arpita: And I think with this sort of structure and methodology laid out to understand how one captures the genuine experiences of the children through research, we can come to the bit about studying inequality and its effects on mental health. The particular axis of inequality that Praveetha has been looking at is gender.

Praveetha: For most common mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, from adolescence onwards, this gender gap appears where women have higher rates of depression and anxiety. And it remains through the life course. At all other ages, women to adult women, older women have higher rates of depression anxiety than men. And there’s many sorts of explanations proposed for this. And some of them range from the sort of biological, sort of biological hormonal type of ones to sort of more social and societal and risk related ones. And there’s no good sort of consensus on why the gender gap appears.

Arpita: So this has been an area that she’s really been interested in – why does the gender gap in mental health appear, why are women more vulnerable to poor mental health, is this a universal phenomenon – these are questions she’s been asking in her research.

One such analysis she undertook was of a large international 2018 study from 70 countries around the world that also covered mental health questions.

Praveetha: So we asked a very simple question, which is, is the gender gap sort of the same across these 15 year olds across 70 countries. And its not. In some countries there’s hardly any gap. In some countries, very few countries, men have worse mental health. And in lots of countries women have worse mental health, but the the size of that gap really varies. So it’s not like a universal constant. So for example, if you think about life expectancy, women around the world live longer than men, it’s sort of something, it’s a sort of a universal constant is something to do with.. and it’s not just true in humans, it’s true in many, many different animals. Whereas with this gender gap, it wasn’t, it’s not like it’s a given. There was massive heterogeneity between countries, which sort of suggests that there might be modifiable things about societies and expectations and women’s roles in societies that could sort of contribute to the gender gap.

Deepika: Okay so her research very clearly is telling us that poor mental health isn’t like a biologically determined difference within genders, it has a lot to do with the social contexts women or girls occupy?

Arpita: Exactly. And Praveetha explained how she co-related the experiences of young girls and what puts them at risk of having poor mental health as grown women with an example of sexual violence.

Praveetha: So we’re doing some work now looking at how adolescent girls who experienced sexual violence, how their mental health develops, and it’s a really, really strong risk factor. And it shouldn’t be a surprise. But it is one of those things that girls disproportionately face compared to boys by miles. So usually, it’s like, if you look at the numbers here in the UK, there was a recent poll that said that, between 18 and, you know, sort of later adolescence, over 80% of young women reported sexual violence. And I’m sure it’s the same in many countries of the world, probably even worse in some. Whereas for men, it’s like, you know, always a couple, you know, a couple percentage points. So it’s really gendered risk factor.

So, yeah, again, I think this is sort of important, but also interesting because if we’re saying it’s, you know, it’s not good for women, that they have worse mental health, through their lives, but I think really thinking about what is it about societies that create this sort of higher risk for women, and I think sexual violence is one of the most obvious things.

Deepika: I think any girl will attest to the truth of this – I mean the minute you’re a teenager, your parents, relatives, society – everyone is occupied with schooling you on how to dress, behave etc constantly reminding you of the multiple vulnerabilities that come with being a young girl in a patriarchal world.

And there’s a perception that mental health is an individual problem, but really we’re all products of these really complex environments.

Arpita: Yeah Praveetha’s research helps us see how elements of inequality like gender can heavily influence our lives, again something that the State of the World’s Children Report 2021 has laid particular emphasis on. They say – ‘Socioeconomic and cultural factors in the wider world, as well as humanitarian crises and events like the COVID-19 pandemic, can all harm mental health.’ So hopefully in days ahead more of us will connect how contexts of poverty, oppression, violence, gender, class, caste etc cause holistic harm and that the conversation on well-being implies a society which addresses these issues together actively and stops isolating mental health as a purely individual or biological issue.

Deepika: That’s brought us full circle hasn’t it – we began this conversation discussing how children have been affected by this pandemic which is this long unfolding disaster full of constant uncertainty and stress, that has reorganised all our lives.

Praveetha: Well, first of all, the pandemic is not over yet. So, you know, we can’t know fully. And there’s obviously negative impacts of things like lockdowns and isolation, but those were necessary public health measures. And then there’s the impacts of the disease itself, right? So bereavement, so either losing loved ones to the pandemic, or being severely infected. So we know for example, people who are struggling with Long Covid, sort of, you know, the disease that doesn’t sort of where you don’t recover quickly. Again, low energy, you know, brain fog and stuff for a long time. And these are going to have impacts on mental health as well.

So I think the impact of the pandemic, and then there’s the sort of financial knock on effects, right of the pandemic, in many places for many people would have a decreased financial security. Or, you know, there might be more uncertainty and more uncertainty and lower financial security have always been bad for people’s mental health. So I think the impacts of the pandemic are, it’s not a straightforward thing. And it’s really hard to isolate, which impacts are because of isolation and which because of, you know, the infection.

Arpita: To state two such reports I could find that had some data on India: The UN Report stated that 1 in 7 of 15 to 24-year-olds in India, reported often feeling depressed or having little interest in doing things during the pandemic; and, a 2021 report released by Lokniti-CSDS, stated that more than 50% of youth aged 15-34 that they interviewed reported becoming angry over small matters. They also reported feeling sad, losing interest in daily activities, and being affected by loneliness during the last two or three years.

Deepika: And I remember reading how in Dec 2021 the U.S. Surgeon General released an Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health outlining the pandemic’s unprecedented impacts on the mental health of America’s youth and families.

So yeah as much as we would all like to just move on, have the nightmare of the pandemic end – the truth is that the pandemic in its own way has been carrying urgent lessons about the change we need to make to build and become truly healthy and resilient as individuals, communities and as a society.

Arpita: You know at the end of our conversation we asked Praveetha – what can we as individuals do – what is the first step one can take towards a world that begins to address adolescent mental health instead of shoving it under the rug. And I think as much as most of the conversation tended to lean on the academic side – this bit of simple advice felt human and very do able.

Praveetha: It’s a huge question but let’s try like a few few possible small answers, which are not going to fix everything. I think there’s obviously the things about everyday things we do, right? So everyday decisions we make, but in how we think about ourselves and our mental health, but also how we react to others around us. So think being more kind, being more considerate, realising that other people might have problems we don’t know about is really important. Because it’s often it’s easy to… cause mental health difficulty you often can’t see. But just because you can’t see doesn’t mean somebody is not struggling. So I think if we’re all just slightly mindful that people might be struggling. That’s one small thing we can all do.

Deepika: I really like how she’s broken that down – that one doesn’t necessarily have to try and understand and respond to everything but that there are small steps of empathy and kindness which we can take – and to not underestimate the power that it carries to change another’s experience. You know I’m reminded of this lovely book Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – where a single person’s friendship and kindness literally turns the life of the suffering protagonist around for the better.

Arpita: I know, it can’t be said enough – empathy and kindness are both really powerful ways to open up spaces for young people, really anyone, facing difficult situations – for them to feel seen, heard, understood, held. These seem like small actions but can have tremendous impact on someone who might be feeling lonely and isolated. I mean I can attest to this personally – how much it meant for me that people – my family, friends, community – all of them made it so much more easier to manage our Covid quarantine by simple acts of asking after us or sending food. Even under physical isolation it made us felt seen and less alone in a difficult time.

Deepika: And you know I often think how from that first step a journey of larger systemic change – of responsive communities, supportive institutions and policies, all of it, can begin. Covid has taught us what helps with physical illness, there seems no reason to not apply those lessons just as enthusiastically to our mental well-being.

Outro: Praveetha has published widely on this topic and her work can be explored further online. In our next conversation, we’re excited to hear from Shireen Ansari, a young woman who was part of a Leaders Lab that conducted research during the lockdown with her peers to understand the lived experience of young girls and women during the pandemic and then put together recommendations for supportive action. We’ll also hear from Swarnlata Mahilkar who works as a Girl Fellow at Empower, a grant-making organization that supports partners working with marginalised youth. Don’t forget to listen in!

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You can also write to us at team@thecuriocitycollective.org or message us on 6300711451 if you feel called to make a contribution to sponsor an episode or a podcast series. This could help us with our research, writing, admin and editing costs to build further resources that speak to our collective well-being.

This podcast was created by Srinidhi Raghavan, Deepika Khatri and Arpita Joshi. The sound editing was by Vijay Chawla.