(Words by Anutara Shykya)
Last month we had a sort of family reunion when my cousins visited Nepal after many years. One of my cousins had been living in the United States for over a decade, this time, he came with his wife and my four-year old nephew whom we all were meeting for the first time.
Another cousin was visiting after having finished her Master’s in the UK, while the youngest cousin surprised us all by coordinating her visit from London at the same time.
The entire family was ecstatic, we celebrated many things including my nephew’s birthday party, where we invited many guests, had animal mascots and DJ music. There was a lot of drinking and merrymaking, and it seemed as if there was never a quiet moment in the house. Then the day came when one by one, the cousins had to return to their lives abroad.
The house suddenly became quiet and sullen, as if someone had taken away the light. My grandparents and my cousin’s parents weren’t ready to admit it, but they wished their kids would just stay back. What they were feeling was the empty-nest syndrome. However, this case is not unique to my family. Today, in almost every other household in Nepal, there is a child or children who live outside the country. It is estimated that 3000 youths leave Nepal to go abroad on a daily basis. But what about those left behind?
The empty nest syndrome is a term given to the feeling of sadness, loneliness, and sometimes distress that parents feel after their children move out. Those whose children have left the house to live somewhere else may often display a sense of loss, sadness, anxiety, grief, irritability and fear.
This is a term often used for parents in western countries whose kids have moved away to college in another state. The current situation of Nepali kids moving abroad leaving an “empty nest” behind is quite the same.
However, the concept of empty nest syndrome is still new to Nepal. That is because in the past, children used to live in the same household with their parents. But about a decade or two ago, the trend started changing as more youths decided to move abroad for better education, work and lifestyle.
Now, going abroad after one’s graduation almost seems like a rite of passage, leaving their family behind. Parents who are suffering from an empty nest syndrome may overcome this grief by keeping their minds engaged.
Catching up with their peers, starting a new hobby or planning future goals can provide them with something to look forward to. Some can even start a small business in order to bring in some income for the household.
Psychological Effects of Brain Drain on Youths
The Nepali society is a close-knit community that depends on each other during times of hardship or festivities. Youths play an active role in such societies, participating in social activities and helping to pass down the traditions from one generation to the next.
But the lack of youth population has brought sudden changes to this way of life; creating a gap in transferring knowledge and oral history to the upcoming generation. What’s worse is that those youth who are left behind have to cope with the burden of looking after their elderly in a society with a high dependency population.
It’s not just the parents or the elderly that feel desolated with the leaving of their children. The peers and siblings who chose to stay back in their country also suffer from a sense of loneliness and hopelessness as they try to make their mark in a country that doesn’t seem to acknowledge their contributions.
Most of the time, the responsibilities of taking care of the elderly fall into those few youths who didn’t go abroad. This creates a high dependency ratio, resulting in a greater burden on the youth to support and provide social services to the senior people.
Households may face the obligation of supporting an increasing number of older populations when the ratio of dependent population becomes more than the working population.
This takes more time and resources from the working population or youth such that they do not have any spare energy left to take time off for themselves at the end of the day.
This may result in depression, stress and fatigue. And of course, worsened mental health is harmful to the entire household. To the population on whom the elderly depends on for resources, emotional support and companionship, having to go through such mental issues can result in a crumbling society.
Nations only focus on the negative economic effects of brain drain, but there are several psychological effects that are also caused by this. Parents and elderly are suffering from an empty nest syndrome and loneliness, while youths suffer from stress, overburdening and fatigue.
These are often overlooked because conversations surrounding mental health is still not prevalent in Nepalese society. Families often choose to suffer in silence, not understanding that there is someone they can talk to regarding this. As a changing society, these issues need to come into the limelight. In fact, such issues are so new to the Nepalese society that very few studies that have been done so far. As time progresses, we’ll only see more problems related to such cases.
However, changes can be brought even without a deep study into this issue. The senior citizens and youths need to try and understand each other’s problems and needs, can this can only be done through healthy communication.
Taking the time to talk about what’s bothering a person can bring a lot of revelations and can even support good mental health. When people articulate themselves, it definitely gets easier to understand one another and be there for each other.