One of the silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it is bringing mental health out of the shadows and into the open. Mental health conditions have always been more common than we think, but stigma and fear have kept us from acknowledging the enormity—and the universality—of the health burden. One thing that COVID-19 has done is made it ok to not be ok, says Carlos Sanvee, the Secretary General of the Global YMCA, an organization that represents a network of XXX youth worldwide. I recently had the chance to chair a panel with 4 young impressive YMCA leaders from around the world and here is what I learned from them!
Mental health, a major challenge prior to the pandemic, will worsen as a result of the current crisis, say experts, resulting in a different kind of pandemic that could impact our recovery both as individuals and as a society. Youth in particular are impacted by the pandemic’s socio-economic impacts, according to the U.N., and are most vulnerable to its mental health impact. Most of them are on the frontlines, essential workers in healthcare or law enforcement, cashiers in grocery and general stores, production and food processing and delivery. While they are playing a key role in the global response, it is important to pay attention to their mental health and take steps to recognize and mitigate that impact.
1. “Its ok to not be ok”: YMCA Global leadership issued this statement in the early stages of the pandemic. Acknowledging that you may feel anxiety and stress is ok, according to the youth leaders. Creating a support network where you can share your experiences and feelings with others who are going through the same circumstances is important and so is having tools and resources available. It’s also ok to ask for help and call a mental health professional.
2. Normalize through storytelling; Martin Johnson, from the Y in Western Australia, is a mental health advocate and designed a mental health awareness campaign called ‘Inside Our Minds’ using the power of personal storytelling for young people. The campaign has been successful because it eliminates stigma and normalizes feelings by making you realize you are not alone. Storytelling and sharing experiences is a powerful way to educate people and build awareness about mental health issues.
3. Empowerment via belonging and inclusion: Marlon Solis, from the Canada Y developed programs and initiatives with the YMCA that educates local organizations, businesses and communities on how to build welcoming and inclusive communities. Being part of a welcoming and inclusive community builds a sense of belonging and safety for people who may feel like outsiders, he says. And empowering just one individual can create change at a community level.
4. Art (or any other creative exercise) as Therapy: Phylis Wanja, from a Y in Kenya is a pencil artist who uses art as a healing tool for those suffering with mental health issues. She also uses her drawings and cartoons to educate society on mental health and drive home the importance of speaking up. Art or any creative exercise has a way to downshift the limbic system in the brain, says Dr. Husseini Manji, a renowned psychiatrist and brain researcher and an expert on mood disorders. Creative exercises and meditation can be calming to the brain and the psyche giving us much needed relaxation from the stressors in life.
5. Giving back and helping others: Khatchig Ghosn, from Lebanon spends his time working on preventing HIV among the LGBTIQ+ community in Beirut and is currently working with the Lebanese Association with Victims of Terrorism as a social worker and program coordinator. He uses psychosomatic interventions, which are ways to treat both the mental and physical disorders (which are often interrelated). Helping others is a great way to feel a sense of purpose and giving back can be a great way to feel good and make others feel good.
The youth represent our future and to ensure their physical and mental wellbeing will be a key part of ensuring our future as a society.
Also read: The Long Arm of Taboo