Blog by the Commonwealth Youth Health Network (CYHN)
Across the Commonwealth, many people are still struggling to get high-quality, timely and appropriate mental health support. Factors such as poverty, stigma, and limited treatment options pose significant challenges in accessing even the most basic mental health care. 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 2022 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which was 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 which is aimed at tackling mental health challenges in the Commonwealth.
Among other key recommendations, the Commonwealth Youth Health Network (CYHN) was particularly pleased with the acknowledgement by country representatives on the need to launch a targeted campaign to integrate the prevention, care, and treatment of mental health challenges in school health programmes 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. 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 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 campaigns, as well as partnering with national youth councils to advocate for the inclusion of mental health in their country’s youth policies.
During the pandemic, CYHN 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.
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 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. 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. Therefore, on World Mental Health Day, we call on governments 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.
- Support 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.
- 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.
- 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. 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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