By Sonia Boddie
St Kitts and Nevis CARICOM Youth Ambassador
August 12th each year is celebrated as International Youth Day, as endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in the year 1999. This year, the theme to highlight this important day in celebration of our young people across the globe, is “Youth and Mental Health,” under the slogan “Mental Health Matters”.
Indeed, mental health matters; however, as it relates to young people and mental health issues, there is not enough discussion locally in the public domain to address these issues, even though we are seeing more and more youth suffering from mental illnesses, of one sort or the other.
According to the World Health Organization, Mental Health is defined as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
A recent publication by the United Nations has highlighted that at the global level “twenty percent of the world’s youth experience a mental health condition”. This is twenty percent too many! Some of the most common mental health problems affecting young people are depression, stress, anxiety and panic attacks, suicidal feelings and schizophrenia, just to name a few.
As I look across our country, I see increasing numbers of young people who, just by their conduct and behaviour in public, would lead one to reasonably believe that they are suffering from some type of mental health problem. However, there are many who are skilfully hiding their illnesses from the public, and from those who love and care for them, because of fears of stigma and discrimination.
While attending a regional church camp open air service a few weeks ago, I was alarmed at the number of young persons from across the region, who testified that they had attempted suicide on more than one occasion, or even prayed for God to take their lives. The reasons for this they highlighted were, depression, inability to cope with domestic abuse, the loss of a parent, illnesses, and because they simply felt unwanted, and underappreciated in their communities. One striking thing they all had in common though, was the fact that they felt that they could not trust anyone, to share what they were experiencing, because they would be teased, or their “business” would spread like wildfire on the streets.
Sadly, I also still have the WhatsApp message that was sent to me a week ago by a 20-year-old, who indicated that if X and Y situation at her home did not improve, she would resort to killing herself.
The reality is, as much, as we would wish to shy away from the issue, or sweep it under the carpet, an increasing number of young people locally, regionally and internationally are troubled by economic, social and even political worries and are victims of mental health problems. We must therefore mitigate the factors, that contribute to them having mental health problems, look for signs of behavioural and attitudinal changes in our youth, and encourage them to seek help and support as necessary, ensure that the resources are readily available for them to access, and strive as much as possible as a society to stop the “labelling”.
In closing, let us therefore, promote an environment of social inclusion, where our youth affected by mental health and other problems can feel confident enough to speak boldly about their issues, and seek help, to ensure that they can continue living happy and health lives and be productive citizens of this world.