In today’s fast-paced world, where the demands of modern life take precedence over physical and mental health needs, it is crucial to emphasise the significance of prioritising a healthy lifestyle.
In India adolescents and youth suffer many challenges but mental health tops them all. The Ministry of Health and Family welfare ((MoHFW), and UNICEF lending a patient ear to young and adolescents. UNICEF recruited youth advocates creating awareness beyond borders. They are reaching out to youth and adolescents to help them to be free from such issues.
Adolescents and youth consist of one fourth of the world’s population. India houses 253 million adolescents (10-19 years) and almost 65% of India’s population lies below 35 years of age. Adolescents and youth are susceptible to various health issues which are preventable and treatable.
Adolescents and youth in India face a variety of challenges, including access to quality education, healthcare, employment, and basic necessities such as food and shelter. Many young people in India live in poverty, which limits their opportunities and lead to social exclusion. Issues like gender-based violence, teenage marriages and pregnancies, sexual violence, risk of sexually transmitted diseases, changing lifestyle and dietary patterns, rise in non-communicable diseases, mental health issues and substance misuse, pose additional challenges to adolescent health.
Before COVID-19 pandemic almost 50 million children reported to be struggling with mental health issues in India. According to the National Mental Health Survey (NMHS) 2015-16, around 7.5% of individuals 13-17 years of age experience mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and conduct disorder. The emergence of COVID-19 pandemic fueled deterioration of mental health of young people, with 43 % and 24% of students reporting mood changes and emotional changes respectively. 1.6 Lakh students committed suicides accounting for 8% of the total suicides in the country. With lack of trained professionals (1.93 mental health workers per 100,000 Population), limited access to mental health services, limited capacity of teachers in providing mental health support at schools and social stigma make it even more difficult for adolescents to get necessary care and adequate treatment.
UNICEF along with the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) and Psychiatry Department of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), working towards the well being of young and adolescents.
And UNICEF is trying to reach beyond the borders through the volunteers. And under the same programme two youth advocates were appointed in the young people advisory group. They have been working in their respective countries focusing on the same.
Tuqa Al Bakri,a medical analyst from Baghdad is a member of UNICEF’s Young People Advisory Group. This youth advocate has been collaborating with U-Report in Iraq, in partnership with the Iraqi Ministry of Youth and Sports. Tuqa also participated in UNICEF Iraq’s annual review in 2021, as a voice of youth in her city. She was able to discuss the challenges youth are facing in Iraq with decision-makers.
Another youth advocate for mental health is Shitanshu Dhakal who is coordinating with UNICEF Nepal. He has been actively engaged in raising awareness about and battling the silence and stigma around the subject of mental health for several years now – particularly relating to young people. Shitanshu is one of the co-founders of Aarogya, a programme aimed at providing adolescents with mental health support through a digital peer support system.