Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

Of over 90 cases of substance abuse reported to the drop-in centre (DIC) in Wangduephodrang since its establishment in 2017, nearly 40 percent of the abusers are minors or students.

In 2020, 13 cases of substance abuse was reported in Wangduephodrang.

According to DIC peer counsellor Pemba Samba, most cases were related to marijuana.

While most abusers were between 20 and 30 years of age, the DIC also received cases related to children as young as 13 years.

Identifying substance abuse as an issue concerning the local residents, 10 students who are members of the Young-Volunteers in Action (Y-VIA) conducted a survey on substance abuse, domestic violence and mental health.

The survey findings were presented to school principals, local government members, dzongkhag education officials and other relevant stakeholders in Punakha on November 19.

The survey was conducted with support from Bhutan Youth Development Fund (YDF) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Bhutan.

According to the findings of the survey, over 60 percent of the respondent said that they had friends who either smoked or abused drug.

Nearly 64 percent of the participants responded to having a friend who drank alcohol. Most of the participants in the survey were between 13 and 18 years.

Y-VIA member, Sonam Yoezer, said that 44.4 percent of the students agreed that alcohol and drug abuse were a serious issue.

He said that peer pressure, family problem, and availability of the substance were some of the major reasons for consumption of the substance. “Some children could easily access to the substance by lying to sellers.”

Findings also showed that 33.3 percent of the participants didn’t know how to help someone who is suffering from drug and alcohol problem.

Another Y-VIA member, Thinley Jamtsho, said that the survey showed that 33.3 percent of the participants didn’t think that the local government and police weren’t successful in controlling use of drugs and alcohol.

Of 64 respondents, nearly 44 percent stated that they were aware of mental health issues.

Y-VIA member, Pema Dolkar, said that while 45.3 percent of the respondents learnt of mental health from teachers, 37.5 percent learnt from Internet and television.

Another Y-VIA member, Ngawang Rigsel Dorji, said that in the interviews, youth said that most of the communities were uneducated and unaware of mental health problems so they didn’t know how to help. “Respondents said our tradition and culture does not support talking about feeling and getting counseling from experts.”

The respondents pointed out that mental health led to substance abuse, affected their studies and self-esteem.

The students also suggested making a monthly visit to the school counsellor a routine to make mental health topic common among the students.

Of around 40 respondents, more than 30 percent said they knew someone in their town or neighbourhood who suffered from domestic abuse. About 54 percent said that the pandemic has led to increase in domestic violence.

While majority said that they were aware of domestic violence and abuse, nearly 39 percent of the respondents said they weren’t aware of how to help the victims of domestic violence.

Stakeholders at the meeting suggested developing a way forward for the agencies and schools to implement to better address these issues.

The survey was conducted among students aged between 12 and 18 years old.

Y-VIA member Namda Choying said that apart from questionnaires, 45 face-to-face interviews with students and parents were also conducted.

Y-VIA members with support from YDF and UNICEF is conducting similar surveys in 10 other dzongkhags.