Hyderabad: I first ventured into the National Defence Academy, Pune, to serve his nation in 2015; a dream that took years of blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifices. Hailing from a civilian background, it took me a lot of 'ragada' to get his 'fundas' straight but once he settled, awards and recommendations flew in abundantly, and life seemed to be sorted. But, there's no success story without a failure. Two years into the process, a career-ending back injury made him permanently unfit for the armed forces.

Thereafter, I took up social sciences at Christ University, Bangalore. It was at this time that I observed the polarities between the Army and civilian life having plunged into college almost suddenly. In my expedition to adjust as a normal student in college from a cadet at the forces, I explored his love for poetry and storytelling. At the age of 21, I published my first book 'The Mighty Mustang' which reflects my experiences in and after the Academy along with his truce with love. For this book, I was listed among the 'top 100 debutant authors of India' by LiteraturesLight.

As years passed I became an avid performer in and around Bangalore and soon realised the need for more voices to raise critical issues. I became a certified peer educator in my campus and began speaking to students about mental health, child sexual abuse, toxic masculinity, and other such issues.

What started as an emotional release has now become a tool to bring social change. Today, I feel am a life coach, author, NLP practitioner, fitness and nutrition coach, SSB coach, and on a mission to inspire and push people to their highest potential and help them become the best version of themselves.

Currently, I have undertaken Project 'NH Mental Health'.

Growing up, I never heard terms like depression, anxiety, mental health; just the occasional 'suicides' reported in the news channels. I always thought that something must be wrong with youngsters who choose to take their lives, until I faced a similar situation in 2017 when I decided to take mine due to a spine injury that ended my career in the Armed Forces (National Defence Academy).

It wasn't long before I was diagnosed with depression and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I found myself flailing in the ocean of helplessness and silence. Back in those days I thought I was the only one who was going through this, but when I looked around there were so many; some my age, some elder, but mostly younger.

I did some research only to find out that one student dies by suicide every hour in India, and one out of four students in the 13-15 age group is depressed in India. India has the highest suicide rate among the ten South-East Asian Countries.

We all know mental health is a hushed matter within the walls of several households. With COVID, depression has further skyrocketed in our society. Help is available but hardly availed. This is because we are never educated to recognise the signs and seek care. While there are conversations around mental health on social media sometimes, the ground level reality is abysmal.

Hence, I have started a petition asking the ministry of education to incorporate mandatory mental health curriculum in Indian schools (classes IX-XII).

The curriculum (non-graded) is not about adding more syllabus, but rather educating and sensitizing the students through dialogues, discussions, activities, feedbacks, exercises, skill training, etc. It's high time that the trend of 'observing' a 'mental health week/day' in schools once a year changes to all-year round curriculum.

In support of this petition I'm solo-walking from Kanyakumari to Leh (4,000 kms); the journey started on 16 November 2020. On this journey I'm meeting various government officials, making pit stops at schools, local government bodies, private institutions, and meeting social activists, getting petition signatures, spreading awareness and working towards this cause with all the zest and fervour I have in me.

Along with the online signatures, I'm getting offline signatures of people who do not have access to Internet or smartphone. Mental health should be accessible to all.

As of now, I've covered 1,250 kms, reached out to more than 50 schools and colleges and have met over 20 government officials from different districts of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, AP, and Telangana. I'm currently in Hyderabad.

The walk has two phases: phase 1 is from Kanyakumari to Delhi covering 3,000kms, and the estimated arrival time is 31 March 2021. Phase 2 – from Delhi to Leh – will cover 1,000kms and the estimated arrival is 31 May 2021.

So far, I have collected 19,000 signatures. The target is to collect 1,00,000.

Upon reaching Delhi, I'll approach Ramesh Pokhriyal, the education minister, and present the petition.

Once the curriculum is in place and executed efficiently, I aim to see a day when every Indian teenager can openly talk about their issues, seek support from their parents and peers without being judged, build their 'mental muscle' and enhance not only their well-being but that of the entire Indian society."

Ronit Ranjan

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