On 24th March 2020, a nationwide lockdown was announced by the government due to the COVID-19 outbreak. At the time when the lockdown was initiated, more than 40,000 young students were stuck in hostels and PGs in Kota because of restrictions on transport. Already living away from their homes and now having no means of going back for an uncertain time period, these students have been struggling with problems of food unavailability, poor quality of food and a myriad of psychosocial issues while adjusting to this unprecedented situation.
One of the primary problem students had to face was unavailability of food and threat of having no roof over their head. Some hostels began asking their residents to vacate while many messes closed down soon as they received the news of nationwide lockdown. The city administration was proactive in issuing an order preventing hostel authorities from forcing students to vacate and ordered the messes to remain open. Civic societies and coaching institutes rose to the occasion and distributed free food packets to more than 3000 students every day until the most of the messes were functional. However, the quality of food has deteriorated which has resulted in many students skipping their meals. This has impacted not just their physical health and nutrition but also their mental health. Many students reported feeling a lack of energy during the day and overall lethargy, spending considerable time sleeping. The absence of coaching classes, lack of access to libraries and minimal movement outside their room has impacted students’ daily routine adversely. Time spent on studying has reduced drastically. Students in Kota usually spent 9-12 hours every day for exam preparation which left little room for any relaxation or recreation. Now, they report not being able to study for more than 2-3 hours a day. Many find themselves sleeping 10-11 hours a day having nothing much to do except studying or using mobile phones. As a result, the young students are experiencing feelings of guilt for not ‘doing good enough’, more so because now they ‘have all the time in the world’. In addition to the guilt, they also experience loneliness not just socially but experientially as well. They find themselves alone in their struggle against disrupted routine and inability to maintain academic performance.
Therefore, as a counsellor working from a psychosocial lens, the foremost intervention is nothing else but to validate the client’s lived experience. A significant part of my conversation with clients is make them aware that this disturbance in their daily routine and its impact are natural responses to a situation which is unprecedented. In addition to this, it is also important to provide a sense of universality to them that others are also going through a similar experience as them. This provides clients with a reassurance that they are not alone and their reactions are not ‘abnormal’.
Many of us are making efforts to utilise this increased leisure time by engaging in activities that give us pleasure such as reading, exercising, spending time with families etc. During my conversations with the students stuck here in Kota I realised that for them, the task of engaging in pleasurable activities involved one crucial step- knowing what is pleasurable for them. Many students shared that they never really gave it a thought as to what they enjoy doing since they were so busy completing their coursework and studying. Thus, to help them in creating a daily routine during lockdown and adding recreational activities to it, a crucial step was to encourage them to self-reflect and identify what are the activities they enjoy doing. In the weeks since the lockdown began, the youth population has benefitted from the psychosocial counselling services received from us. They report feeling less guilty of ‘wasting time’ and more active and energized to take on each new day until the clouds of uncertainty blow away.
Pranesh Krishna, Counsellor curm Researcher
Kota Intervention, Vishakha