The experience and impact of distress (notion of suffering) depends on the geography(ies) where the distress occurs. For adolescents attending school in Nepal, their home, community and school are the three major locations (physical geographies) where distress is experienced due to situations that oppose their expectations in three emotional geographies (individual body geography, inter-personal geography and broader group geography).

This paper presents the findings of an ethnographic study conducted among high school students in a rural part of Lalitpur district, Nepal. Out of a total population of 111 adolescents, 35 directly participated in the study by agreeing to be individually interviewed, taking part in focus group discussions or being observed by the researcher in school, home and community.

Considering adolescents to be social actors, having agency to resist and navigate the problems they encounter, we examined their emic perspectives on how and where distress is experienced and how it affects their emotional geographies. Referencing an ecological framework, we assessed how the adolescents’ distress arose and traveled from one geography to another and how it was associated with the emotional geographies of the affected adolescent.

We found that the adolescents’ emic problem analysis model clearly suggested three physical geographies and their emotional geographies of distress. The personal body structure and mental state of the adolescent was related to individual body geography whereas the distance between two people (the adolescent and their peer) was responsible for inter-personal geographies of distress. The distance between the adolescents and several family and community members was responsible for group geographies of emotional distress. Imbalance between the expectation and the reality (alternation or changes in what the adolescent expected) in both geographies cause distress. Distress in one geographic setting triggered distress either in the same setting or in another setting, thereby making it mobile, affecting/or being affected by several geographies simultaneously. This suggests that distress is not static and nor attached to a particular geography; rather it is mobile and travels back and forth among several geographies (both physical and emotional geographies).

Distress experiences at home and in the community were related to domestic violence, heavy workload in the family, lack of materials for the fulfillment of basic needs and disputes in the family or with neighbors because of property issues. Discrimination, bullying and physical punishment and lack of infrastructure were common experiences of distress for adolescents both at home, in the community and at school. The behavior and the teaching styles of teachers and the confusing rules and regulations at the schools were typical school-related experiences of distress.

Keywords:  Geographies of Distress, Adolescents, Nepal, High School