My grandmother is an inspirational woman, who spent over 35 years of her life working with college-aged students on their mental health challenges. She would often say that the toughest part of her job wasn’t working with students on the conditions they were coping with or finding positive ways to deal with their mental stresses, but the struggle of erasing the stigma associated with mental health issues and the willingness of young people to embrace the concept that “mental health matters.”
This year, the United Nations has decided to elevate the issue and focus the August 12 International Youth Day on the theme of “Youth and Mental Health.” In particular, the day is centered on tackling the unnecessary stigma associated with mental health issues faced by young people across the globe and the discrimination or exclusion that can ensue from being “labeled” as having a mental health condition.
It is estimated that around 20 percent of the world’s youth experience a mental health condition, including behavioral and mental-health problems such as depression, anxiety disorders, and disruptive behavioral disorders. That’s one out of every five youth. If that isn’t staggering enough, a recently released United Nations study on mental health shows that these conditions are one of the top causes of adjustment problems and are not only connected to social and economic integration, but also employability.
Coupled with the estimate of 20 percent of young people suffering from a mental health condition is the grim reality that only 20 percent of those global youth with a mental health condition are getting the treatment they need. It is suggested that this is partly due to the stigma attached to mental health conditions and partly due to a serious disparity between affordable, available services and public need.
So there is much to be done around the intersection of mental health and global youth: greater funding is needed to support mental health programs; greater awareness is needed among service providers, educators, parents, peers, and publics; and most importantly greater energy is needed to combat the stigma associated with mental health conditions.
There is plenty of inspiration for transforming the stigmas associated with mental health conditions. Now, more than ever, the same needs to be done to transform the challenging narrative around those conditions among youth. We need to channel that same focused global energy collectively to erase the stigmas associated with mental health conditions and ensure that global youth can openly seek the services and support that they need to live full, healthy, discrimination-free lives; pursue their aspirations; and lead powerfully into the future.
How do you show that mental health matters? Spread the word, raise awareness, and help to end the stigma using #MentalHealthMatters and #YouthDay.
About the Author: Andy Rabens is the Acting Special Advisor for Global Youth Issues in the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.