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    Highlighting mental health support for youth

    Danial Norjidi

    The importance of investing in mental health support for young people was highlighted by the Commonwealth Youth Health Network (CYHN) recently.

    In a blog post on the Commonwealth Secretariat website in conjunction with this year’s World Mental Health Day, the CYHN stated that many people are still struggling to get high-quality, timely and appropriate mental health support across the Commonwealth.

    “Factors such as poverty, stigma and limited treatment options pose significant challenges in accessing even the most basic mental health care,” said the CYHN. “While many countries are starting to put in place mental health policies – a welcome commitment – such policies often fail to explicitly recognise and provide for the needs of young people.”

    The CYHN noted that the 2022 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in Kigali, Rwanda this June saw high-level representatives of Commonwealth member countries, international civil society groups and young people come together to celebrate the historic Kigali-Dhaka Compact on Mental Health, described as being aimed at tackling mental health challenges in the Commonwealth.

    “This could not have come at a better time as many young people are still reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic – from experiences such as the passing of loved ones to the disruptions to their education, including the provision of psycho-social offerings and the operations of other social institutions,” said the CYHN. “As we look towards COVID-19 recovery and reflect on the lessons learnt, it is crucial that young people are able to access comprehensive and consistent services and programmes that adequately meet their mental health needs.”

    The article shared that the CYHN, since its inception in 2016, has been a leading voice for improving mental health across the Commonwealth. “This has included working directly with young people in their communities to tackle mental health stigma through peer education and campaigns, as well as partnering with national youth councils to advocate for the inclusion of mental health in their country’s youth policies.”

    The CYHN mentioned that, during the pandemic, it also facilitated a series of online workshops to support young people with the tools and strategies needed to support their mental health and well-being.

    The CYHN also touched on the 2022 Commonwealth Youth Forum in Rwanda, noting that young people who joined its project ideation sessions on health and COVID-19 designed a mental health awareness project involving a series of advocacy activities to champion the inclusion of mental health services at all levels of healthcare delivery and prioritise the inclusion of coping strategies for mental health challenges in school curricula.

    “We, at CYHN, have spent time listening to the lived realities of our members when it comes to their own experiences of mental health as well as that of their friends, families, and community members,” they said.

    “Young people are not prepared to stay silent on mental health – they are speaking up against stigma, sharing their hopes for recovery, and charting a new vision of mental health that is inclusive, accessible, and person-centred.

    “Through these experiences of listening and learning, we have developed a set of recommendations for how countries can ensure that their mental health policies reflect the needs of their youth populations,” said the CYHN.

    The first recommendation is to prioritise the inclusion of young people at all levels of the mental health policy process- from development to implementation. “The views of young people must contribute to shaping the course of mental health policies in the Commonwealth.”

    Secondly, the CYHN recommended supporting the initiatives of young people in raising awareness of the burden of mental health challenges in the Commonwealth.

    “Provide training, an enabling environment and financial support for young people as they develop tools and advocacy programmes to combat mental health stigma and discrimination,” said CYHN.

    A third recommendation is to integrate mental health services at all levels of care, from primary to tertiary levels, to ensure that the services meet the needs of all individuals seeking support. “Professional counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, specialist nurses and other trained staff must be prepared with adequate information and resources to ensure quality care provision.”

    Fourthly, the CYHN recommended to “engage and promote equitable collaborative initiatives (research and otherwise) and discussions between young people from low- and middle-income countries and high-income countries for mental health in dismantling the current power imbalance and patterns of oppression and exploitation, more specifically on the coloniality of global mental health.

    “We cannot wait any longer to take action – the mental health and well-being of this generation are at stake,” concluded the CYHN, adding that “Young people are ready and willing to take the lead.”

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