Blog: Beyond commitments, investing in youth mental health services must be a priority
Commonwealth Youth Health Network (CYHN) Blog
Across the Commonwealth, many people still struggle to access high quality, timely and appropriate mental health support. Factors such as poverty, stigma and limited treatment options pose significant challenges to accessing even the most basic mental health care. While many countries are beginning to put mental health policies in place – a welcome commitment – these policies often fail to explicitly recognize and address the needs of young people.
The 2022 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), held in Kigali, Rwanda, last June, saw high-level representatives from Commonwealth member countries, international civil society groups and young people come together to celebrate the landmark Kigali-Dhaka Compact on Mental Health which aims to address mental health challenges in the Commonwealth.
Among other key recommendations, the Commonwealth Youth Health Network (CYHN) was particularly pleased with the recognition by country representatives of the need to launch a targeted campaign to integrate the prevention, care and treatment of mental health issues into Commonwealth school health programs. .
It couldn’t 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 death of loved ones to disruptions to their education, including the provision of psychosocial offerings and the operations of other social institutions. As we look to recovering from COVID-19 and reflect on lessons learned, it is essential that young people can access comprehensive and consistent services and programs that adequately meet their mental health needs.
The Commonwealth Youth Health Network (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 campaigning, as well as partnering with national youth councils to advocate on for the inclusion of mental health in their country’s youth policies.
During the pandemic, CYHN also hosted a series of online workshops to help young people with the tools and strategies needed to support their mental health and wellbeing.
At the 2022 Commonwealth Youth Forum, which took place in Rwanda, young people who joined its project ideation sessions on health and COVID-19 designed a mental health awareness project that would involve a series of advocacy activities to advocate for the inclusion of mental health services at all levels of health care delivery and prioritize the inclusion of coping strategies for mental health issues in school curricula.
We at CYHN have spent time listening to the lived realities of our members regarding their own mental health experiences as well as those of their friends, families and community members. Young people are not ready to remain silent about mental health – they are speaking out against the stigma, sharing their hopes for recovery and charting a new vision of inclusive, accessible and person-centred mental health.
Through these listening and learning experiences, we have developed a set of recommendations on how countries can ensure that their mental health policies reflect the needs of their youth populations. Therefore, on World Mental Health Day, we call on governments to:
- Prioritize the inclusion of young people at all levels of the mental health policy process, from development to implementation. The views of young people must help shape the course of mental health policy in the Commonwealth.
- Support youth initiatives in raising awareness of the burden of mental health issues in the Commonwealth. Provide training, an enabling environment and financial support to young people as they develop advocacy tools and programs to address mental health-related stigma and discrimination.
- Integrate mental health services at all levels of care, from primary to tertiary level, to ensure that services meet the needs of all people seeking support. Professional counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, specialist nurses and other trained staff should be prepared with adequate information and resources to ensure quality care delivery.
- Engage and promote equitable collaborative initiatives (research and otherwise) and discussions between young people in low- and middle-income countries and high-income countries for mental health to dismantle current power imbalances and patterns of oppression and exploitation, more specifically on the coloniality of global mental health.
We can’t wait to act – the sanity and well-being of this generation is at stake. Young people are ready and willing to take the lead, are you ready to step up and support us?
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- Angela Kolongo Communications Officer, Communications Division, Commonwealth Secretariat
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