Jul 28, 2020
We, at International Youth Alliance for Peace (IYAP) strongly believe that the youth in our country have the energy, creativity and passion to impact the development of our country and its communities. It is their voices, ideas, concerns and suggestions that can inspire and endorse new policies for the overall development of the nation. According to the Ministry of Health, Nutrition & Indigenous Medicine Sri Lanka, 15%–20% of youth suffer from mental health issues. These mental health disorders first emerge in late childhood and early adolescence and may continue into adulthood. If left untreated, mental disorders can impede all aspects of health, including emotional well-being and social development, leaving young people feeling socially isolated and stigmatized. These can lead to poor social and behavioral adjustment affecting learning outcomes, school performance and employment opportunities. The “Youth Matters 2020” project was initiated in response to the growing need to communicate and engage with youth, to the issues related with mental health.
Collective voices on “mental health”
The initial session commenced on 11th March, 2020 and was aimed to explore the topic of suicide prevention. A round table discussion was held in Colombo and moderated by Mr. Nadeesh Jayasinghe, author and trained counsellor by profession. 24 participants from diverse social groups comprising of LGBQT representatives, social workers, NGO sectors, students and educators represented to voice themselves in our round table discussion. They had the opportunity to share their ideas and experiences related to mental health issues as well as provide practical alternatives to support the youth with resources and mentorship. We were able to identify the impact of social and economic factors on suicidal behaviors. Rejection, emotional trauma, drug addiction, social stigma, poverty and unemployment were the primary factors that influenced suicidal behavior among the youth in Colombo District. In addition, it was discussed that the LGBQT community, sex workers and AIDS patients were the most vulnerable and affected individuals as they are marginalized, rejected and distressed within the community. The youth who represented Colombo district highlighted that such vulnerability, trauma, distress and anxiety experienced are the reasons that trigger suicide in Sri-Lanka. Mr. Janith aged 24, at the Colombo discussion, quoted that “Life is a roller coaster and we all experience good and bad times. When we face bad times, we feel that we truly are alone and unable to share or express our concerns due to the constant feeling of anxiety, distress and trauma. As we are unable to express what we really face, our mental health is victimized or affected. We decide that the only way we can get rid of the pain and sorrow is by self- destruction as we are hopeless and helpless. I believe that suicidal thoughts are prompted when we lack the ability to cope up with the pain that we feel.”
A participant from the same discussion highlighted how orthodox stereotypes and media labels influence suicidal behaviors among youth in Sri Lanka. He stated “when a person is known to have a different sexual orientation apart from being heterosexual, he/she is inevitably criminalized by the media. HIV too has an effect on suicides and is a result of a complex process. Being a victim of HIV can also be a major trigger point”.
Following the physical session in Colombo, were the online discussions via zoom discussions due to the pandemic situation. The 1st session was hosted for the youth in Moneragala on 5th of June, Jaffna on the 13th of June, Matara on the 27th of June and lastly Kandy sessions were held on 27th of June respectively. Monaragala, Matara and Kandy were moderated by Mr. Prageeth Munasinghe, a senior counsellor at National Institute of social development carried out the discussion in Sinhala language. The Tamil session was conducted by Mrs. Anushly Sithamparm the founder and principle consultant impro sharing coaching, consultancy & Clinic Pvt Ltd. We, at IYAP focused on the topic “Mental health resilience” as our main theme due to the emerging mental health issues among the youth in these four respective districts. We aimed to engage with professionals and the youth of the community, to the issues associated with Youth Mental Health and the stigma associated with those individuals who may seek help. We abstracted through collective discussions, that social stigma is an important factor in mental health resilience as many individuals from these four districts commonly feel that they have been neglected by the society due to social conditions and financial status. Many individuals agreed that family and their unconditional support can be a highly contributing factor for youth to overcome mental health issues. We also observed that social humiliation is interconnected with the concept of mental health. It was concluded that making decisions in a hasty and impulsive manner, lack of family support and private interconnections, exclusion and isolation from family and society, marginalization from private and public spheres, improper sexual education system in Sri-Lanka, excessive mobile phone usage, misinformation of the internet and romantic relationships are the main factors that lead to suicidal behavior among the youth in Moneragala District.
Youth from Jaffna district affirmed that the children and youth are labelled with negative comments, lack parent’s support system, experience teacher’s impartiality and adverse approaches and face private sphere pressure. This results in self – doubt, lack of confidence resulting in poor mental health. The youth from Matara and Kandy District commonly stressed that the fears of social stigma, isolation, marginalization from the society are the main reasons to hide from and neglect mental stress. Further, they emphasized that their children and youth are impacted due to competitive education systems in Sri-Lanka, social and financial status, orthodox family backgrounds, self-empathy and lack of self-confidence are the focal factors for the instability of mental health and trigger for distress and the ability to cope up with issues.
Conclusions and solutions.
We, at IYAP derived from all the collective discussions, that mental health resilience is a crucial factor in the growth and productivity of youth. Working with diverse groups and communities enabled us to develop and possess inclusive mindsets within us. We also realized that knowledge sharing is a powerful tool to overcome issues and identify problems. “Youth Matters 2020” was initialized with the hope to provide the youth on a positive trajectory for successful adjustment in the face of issues related to mental health. We understood from the suggestions and discussions drawn from all the participants, that early intervention efforts will address a broad range of behavioral and mental health outcomes, preparing youth to be successful in their private and public spheres. This can be achieved by providing initial and immediate access to psychological and psychiatric services and counselling without bias or stigma. In many circumstances, youth are embarrassed to accept or recognize their state of mental health and the need to seek help or actions to reduce those mental health effects. Communication and support towards these individuals are the key solution to help them overcome their mental health issues. Aspects such as making and sustaining strong relationships with people, building self-confidence, sharing own perspectives and views with others, improving interconnection between spiritual wellbeing and growth, having a good bond with peer circles, engaging in meditations, attending regular counselling sessions, collaborating with social activities, developing creative thinking, participation in activities, indulging in nature, tackling and being responsible for the economic challenges in health support seekers, using social media platforms to portray skills will be effectual practices to overcome issues based on mental health. These collective efforts may cause a transformation of the image of dysfunction associated with mental illness as well as promoting overall health and recovery.