These youngsters on Instagram dole out advice from exams to mental health
India's young Instagrammers, themselves vocal about their problems, make themselves relatable to their followers
Imagine a nine-year-old, worried because she is overweight, contemplating suicide. Where would she go? Who would she tell? She doesn't think her parents would understand and her friends have their own problems. Who does she turn to? Of course it's Instagram, and her favourite Instagrammer, Mumbai girl Prajakta Koli, aka, MostlySane (her handle on Instagram and YouTube).
"When I saw that message, saying that she was contemplating suicide because she was fat, a chill went down my spine, especially because it was two days old. So who knows what had happened by then?" says the 25-year-old, hugely popular for her funny slice-of-life videos. But Koli knew she couldn't handle this by herself, and so her team at One Digital Entertainment got in touch with the child's parents. "She never wrote to me again. Perhaps she felt I had betrayed her in some way, but I couldn't have ignored her message, and not done what I did."
Young and wise
But, the nine-year-old isn't the only one. Koli, who has more than 2 million subscribers on YouTube and 675k followers on Instagram, continues to get messages from followers in need of either advice or a shoulder to cry on. Her posts are heartfelt videos about life's important difficulties: why it's important to cry, or how to deal with bullying. She is also one of the new-age Instagram therapists for the thousands of teens whose every-day trials range from school and college woes, peer pressure, body, gender and relationship issues, to mental health concerns like anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.
India's young Instagrammers, themselves vocal about their problems, make themselves relatable to their followers. They address the fans' issues through their posts, live streams (where they take questions), YouTube channel, and also private messages. "So I get problems that go from 'what stream I should take in college?' to 'I might kill myself today'," says 19-year-old spoken word poet Aranya Johar, who talks heartbreak, gender, consent, body positivity with her 76.2k teenage followers on Instagram. Even though Johar says she recommends that each of her followers seek professional therapy (she herself goes to a therapist fortnightly), there are many youngsters who are now choosing to find quasi therapists in their online idols. "It's key to show them not just the highlights of your life, but also the bad days, when you yourself are going through depression and anxiety. It's important to make them believe this too shall pass, and that they have to believe in themselves. If I can get through it, so can they," says Mumbai-based Johar.
For Koli, it's less about giving advice and more about telling a story. "I usually talk about it from a very personal point of view. I say this is what I did on my first day in college, or this is how I got over my heartbreak. If I don't have an answer, I ask people around me, who usually are older, to help me arrive at a few answers."
Ajey Nagar, also known as CarryMinati
A while ago, Johar undertook an online course on a portal called 7 Cups, which provides free therapy and counselling for people in distress, and became a certified "listener". Johar, who felt the course would help her help others better, says, "It taught me many things — especially that you have to let people come to their own decisions. You have to just break it down for them — why do you feel like this? Have you talked to your parents? When the layers are exposed, they are better equipped to take those decisions. On days I am suffering with anxiety, I send them a list of therapists they can reach out to for free." Like her, Faridabad boy Ajey Nagar, also known as CarryMinati on social media, knows when to direct his followers to professional help.
For the 19-year-old, giving advice comes easy because he himself was once an insecure teenager who now knows he is "special". "I think they relate to me because I grew up thinking I was very ordinary, but now I know I can be special. It's all about working hard and that's what I tell my followers," says Nagar, who has 750k followers on Instagram and 3.8 million subscribers on YouTube. "They look up to me because I create content they can relate to, and then when they ask me questions, I can give an answer, because I myself am going through it. But when someone says, they are thinking of suicide, I recommend they get professional help, because I can't help with that."
Rajat Sharma of The Rajat Code
Talking mental health
What these young influencers are doing is opening up a conversation on a topic most shove under the carpet. For Rajat Sharma, 24, known as The Rajat Code on social media, the diktat to live by is "be the best happiest and happiest version of yourself", and he himself took a month off recently as he wanted to work on his mental health, because he found it suffering because of overwhelming amounts of work. "I didn't put up any videos, and later, I did a live stream telling everyone that their mental health was important and they needed to prioritise it and talk about it even if it's taboo. I say, don't let talk affect you, as you can't change the world. You can wear slippers, but you can't carpet the whole world," he says.
It's the constant "talking about it" that has helped cement these youngsters' reputation as the hip therapists of the online world. As they say, they are just sharing their growing pains with the world, and it's starting a conversation. As Sharma says, "Talking about it always makes it better. When I feel bad, I talk about it, and when they feel bad, they talk about it, and together we all feel better. It's a win-win situation."
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