Blog: Commonwealth youth call for urgent action on mental health

10 October 2023
hands coming together

Guest blog by Salome Mosha and Gideon Gachihi, Commonwealth youth leaders and mental health advocates.

World Mental Health Day is celebrated on October 10 annually, this year’s theme, ‘Mental Health is a Universal Human Right’, provides an opportunity to emphasise the importance of promoting and protecting mental health as a basic human right.

In September 2023, world leaders recommitted to universal health coverage, proclaiming that everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

Salome Mosha
Salome Mosha

As Commonwealth youth leaders working to address the burden of mental health in our countries, we welcome the fact that there is increasing attention to the importance of mental health. It is emerging as a strong cross-cutting theme in addressing health systems and building resilience in health emergencies.

This year's theme has also acknowledged the rising global burden of mental health and recognised that youth are among the vulnerable groups that need to be prioritised. More importantly, they must be empowered to address their physical and mental health needs and for policymakers to ensure they are not left behind.

Indeed, these renewed commitments offer an opportunity for us to accelerate our efforts.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the current economic crises has led to a significant increase in the cases of mental health conditions among young people. In fact, since 2020, there has been a 25 per cent surge in cases of anxiety and depression among youths.

Raising the voices of young people on mental health

Within the Commonwealth, young people have advocated to decision-makers about the importance of addressing mental health. At the 2022 Commonwealth Youth Forum, young people deliberated on avenues to address mental health, including engaging in a series of advocacy activities to champion the inclusion of mental health services at all levels of healthcare delivery. 

The ideas proposed include prioritising the inclusion of coping strategies for mental health challenges in school curricula. Young people also championed launching the Dhaka-Kigali Mental Health Compact, whose components included a targeted approach to address mental health among children, adolescents, and youth.

To continue elevating the agenda, and to leverage the commitments from the 2023 Health Ministers Meeting, young people organised an intergenerational dialogue to foster greater collaboration between young leaders and mental health policymakers. Discussions included recommendations for national and regional interventions that can improve mental health provision in the Commonwealth.

Gideon Gachihi
Gideon Gachihi

What are we asking leaders to accelerate?

We, the Commonwealth Youth Health Network (CYHN) caucus in East Central and Southern Africa (ECSA), together with our colleagues across the globe, welcome the UN high-level meeting on universal health coverage (UHC) and also all the efforts by the Commonwealth Heads of Government and the Ministers on addressing the rising burden of mental health among young people.

We are humbly calling upon all the stakeholders to walk the talk and implement these strategies aimed at tackling the challenges caused by mental health among young people. We therefore recommend the following practical approaches geared at accelerating all the efforts by Commonwealth countries:

  1. To take stock of the strategies and policies implemented to address the burden of mental health among the youth and increase the national budgetary allocation for mental health services.
  2. To integrate existing youth-friendly services such as communicating through social media platforms, Tik Tok or Twitter. Additionally, to advocate for issues such as reducing the stigma and discrimination of youths affected with mental health conditions at the community level.
  3. To collaborate with existing youth-led organisations and support initiatives focused on addressing the mental health crisis. This includes working with organisations already providing prevention, care and treatment for mental health patients.
  4. Protect youths from the social determinants of mental health. This includes providing youths with opportunities to gain skills needed to become self-employed or get employed.

We are pleased to work with the Commonwealth Secretariat and East, Central and Southern Africa Health Community (ECSA-HC) to move beyond commitments towards implementation. 

We believe it is possible to tackle the significant burden of mental health conditions among young people through the implementation of commitments made by the Commonwealth Heads of Government, in addition to our suggested strategies. 

As we celebrate World Mental Health Day, we hope all the stakeholders will act with urgency to avert this impending catastrophe.

Learn more about our health work