On #InternationalYouthDay, I want to talk about the pandemic that has been facing the youth of India since long before #COVID started - the pandemic of loneliness - through the story of a student I met as part of the #YuvaaRoadshowofKindness last year. (TW: Suicide)

1/ I met Rohit (name changed) at an engineering college, where he told me about the relationship he had had with his father. His father was the kind of man who'd only be 'there' for his son during exam results, to find out how his son fared, & to tell him how he could do better.
2/ This would leave Rohit feeling alienated from his father, because he was more than his marks, and his relationship with his father should have been more than a transaction. So when his father wanted him to do engineering after his Boards, he rebelled and took up medical.
3/ MBBS isn't a piece of cake, and away from his parents, friends and home, Rohit found himself getting increasingly lonely. A topper till his 12th, he started getting bad grades.. until the day he reached his lowest: in one of his final exams, he scored in single digits.
4/ The inability to speak to anyone about it, along with shame & self loathing made things so bad that he started thinking of a drastic step: of taking his life.

He didn't want to be answerable to his father when he'd call to ask him his marks, and tell him 'I told you so'.
5/ When his father called, Rohit didn't pick. But the phone kept ringing incessantly, so he gave in. His father asked the dreadful question, 'How much did you score?'
Trembling, he told him he failed.

Through the silence at the other end, he waited for his father to shame him.
6/ Instead, his father said the words that (Rohit would later tell me) changed his life.

He asked him: 'Are you okay beta?'

Rohit broke down on hearing that and told him he wasn't. Hearing that, his father told him to come back home.. his son mattered more than that college.
7/ That was the first time Rohit's father had ever asked that question. And it changed everything for him: he realised that his father loved him.. and that he wasn't just the makrs he scored.

Rohit went back, dropped out of medical, and went to engineering - where he is happy!
8/ Rohit's story is one of the hundreds I heard on the roadshow, and so many would mirror the first part of his story, and the rare few had that kind of a hopeful ending.

Because unfortunately, most parents in India only talk to their children, but seldom ever listen to them.
9/ There is a reason most Gen Z look down to their phones: because when they look up, they don't know if their parents would listen. The generation gap between parents & children has turned into a communication gap.

And the youth understand.. that their parents don't understand.
10/ At @weareyuvaa, we've been trying to bridge this gap through offline/online programs & content. And the only way to start this conversation is by giving the youth the respect of being heard.

Here's a spoken word that tries to do that, #DearParents:
11/ If you are a parent reading this, please, please listen to your children, and don't deny their mental health issues.

All they are looking for is to be understood, acknowledged, heard and accepted for who they are, and not what society may want them to be.
12/ And if you are a young person reading this, please take the first step and open up to your parents. Sometimes, it takes one step, sometimes, many steps.. but the onus of empathy has to lie on you: you are the generation with the understanding of mental health they don't have.
13/ But the only way you will feel less lonely, is by listening to each other. And I really really hope you do. <3

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