The Midnight Years

Here’s a story that mirrors the life of Indian teenagers and shows how they can get the support they may need.

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Surely as a teenager you must have felt those physical, physiological, psychological, emotional and behavioural storms that all teens experience. What has changed now for Indian teenagers? Nothing. And everything. Their world is more demanding, the stakes are higher, the tussle between their own dreams and others’ expectations more intense.

That’s why a book like The Midnight Years (Hachette India, 232 pages, Rs 399), with a special section in which a psychologist analyses teen dilemmas. The authors, Jane De Suza and Sangita Unni, tell you more about it. Excerpts.

The prelude…

A writer and a psychologist sat over coffee more than six years ago in Bangalore. The news carried the nth incident of a youngster jumping off a terrace. It was heartbreaking for the two, especially since they had teens of their own.

‘Beyond the talk shows and mandatory class lectures, what was being done?’ they wondered. ‘How can we get young people to listen, to understand a larger perspective?’

They came together to write a book, one that teens would see themselves in. A mirror to the turmoil in their minds. It would be neither preachy nor judgmental nor a textbook nor frivolous. The characters would be real, their anxieties true to life in twisting and turning real-world incidents.

It would be one of the toughest books to write, and it would make a difference. It would help young adults realize they’re not alone in what they feel.

It would be the story of Indian teenagers. The Midnight Years.

AABP: Why do you think the lives of Indian teenagers needed to be portrayed specifically?

Jane & Sangita: India has one of the largest youth populations of the world. They are on their way to becoming assets as leaders, change makers and contributors to the nation’s development. But we are also leading contributors to youth mental illness in the world. Research indicates that although government policies pay attention to physical health, there is minimal effort to improve child and adolescent mental health (CAMH). We need strong strategies in place to prevent CAMH disorders and protect our teens from mental health challenges during this distinctive life stage.

Indian teens live within family systems that have culturally distinct values, practices and beliefs – in their parenting styles, gender expectations, eating habits and communication styles.

Indian teens are a volatile cocktail of indiscriminate borrowing from the West, and families and society rooted in Indian traditions, expectations and pressures. The balancing act gets too much. To conform or break away? To please the family or take a risk? No Western thinker could possibly understand the many pulls and burdens the Indian teen carries. This book writes from the insider’s point of view.

AABP: Why did you include a psychologist’s analysis of teen predicaments in the book?

Jane & Sangita: If we were to be true to the purpose of this book – to help young adults through dark times – then we couldn’t stop at a riveting story. The story raises questions, which are best answered by an expert in mental health. No pop psychology or light quizzes here. Teens are intelligent and deserve to be treated as such. The psychologist

co-writes this book to bring the authenticity in: from explanations about what happens in a young brain on a physical level to common syndromes.

AABP: How did you arrive at the sparkling, symbolic characters with so many ‘issues’ to present?

Jane & Sangita: We wanted to speak to the teens directly; we wanted to leave them with this message: ‘You are not alone’; and we did not want to associate mental health only with illness– but with everyday dilemmas that may not need medical intervention.

With this in mind, we chose four top concerns, building them into quintessential family contexts. Over many face-to-face and intercontinental chats, we dipped into our collective experience, taking from both personal and professional lives, to create characters that the teens would recognize in a story that kept them gripped. That’s why the thirty-odd rewrites and revisions, then more with our editor, till every line worked!

AABP: A racy narrative unburdened by ‘teaching moments’ is so hard to achieve – how did you manage that?

Jane & Sangita: We did not want to give them didactic instructions or ‘to-do steps’ for resolution since no two teen challenges are exactly the same, given their circumstances. We wanted to indicate gently the different types of support they could reach out to, to help them move from awareness to action, to leave them with the power of choice – to build their destiny with their own hands.

Eye-opening Facts

  • India is home to 243 million adolescents.
  • According to the latest National Mental Health Survey of India, 7.3 per cent of those in the age group of 13-17 experience mental disorders. That’s one in every 13-14 teens!
  • Young Indians, research has shown, are unable to recognize causes and symptoms of mental health problems and believe that recovery is unlikely.
  • Compared to adults, young people do not seek help for mental health problems.

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