Mental Health in a Changing World: A Focus on Youths

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The World Health Organisation for its 2018 mental health campaign has chosen to focus on youth. This is perhaps because there is an increasing recognition that youths operate in a more dynamic world where they face many social, economic and environmental pressures that affect their wellbeing. The perceived vibrancy of youths means that conversations about their mental health are often treated with some level of flippancy or, in many cases, ignorance and in Nigeria, the situation is no different. Mental health challenges have been identified as the single most common cause of disabilities in youths, with the average age of onset at 14 years.  In Nigeria, there has been increasing reports and media focus on youths and associations with substance abuse, depression and even suicide. This makes the theme of the 2018 WHO Mental Health Campaign very timely and a significant focus.

As young boys and girls transition from adolescence into young adulthood, they experience significant changes in their biological, cognitive, emotional, social and psychological development. For young adults or teenagers, on the other hand, the focus is on developing consistency in their identity, establishing career and life goals, and quest for intimate relationship. Essentially, moving from one developmental phase of life to another can be challenging for many young people, which can create mental health challenges or exacerbate dormant traits. Mental health challenges are a range of symptoms that affect the way an individual thinks, feels and behaves. Some of these challenges are experienced by most youths and include: Childhood behaviour disorders (e.g. ADHD, Conduct disorders) Emotional disorders (e.g. clinical depression, bipolar disorder), Anxiety disorder (e.g. anxiety, panic attack), Eating disorder (e.g. anorexia, bulimia), Trauma and stress related (e.g. stress, PTSD), Psychosis (e.g. schizophrenia) Substance use and abuse, suicide and self-harm. According to research, changes in brain structure and functioning, genetics and environmental factors are root causes of mental health challenges.

In Nigeria, low mental health literacy, the stigma around mental health, the false belief that mental health challenges are associated with spiritual attacks, limited number of qualified mental health practitioners, the lack of government focus, policy and investment in mental health care, all negatively influences the desire to ask for help and receive appropriate care. This however does not take away from the fact that mental health challenges can be treated. Creating awareness and taking steps to preventing youth mental health challenge is therefore key in addressing it. Parents, caregivers, school authorities need to take adequate steps in educating themselves on issues around mental health, and understand how to provide the right type of support and care. Building resilience in young people is a fundamental skill in helping them navigate the stressors of becoming adults. Resilience refers to the ability to adapt well to stress, pain, trauma, and adversity, a skill that helps the individual face challenges and recover from it. It is important to teach young people positive coping mechanisms, adaptation, persistence and ways of planning long-term goals and success plan despite life’s challenges. As a country, the WHO campaign should serve as a clarion call to promote mental health in youths as well as advocates that will act as positive role models, promoting positive lifestyle, and encouraging young people to see the world from various perspectives. Parents, guardians and caregivers should take the concerns and worry of youths seriously, have appropriate expectations, and create a positive environment for building healthy relationships.

If you or anyone you know is affected by the topic discussed in this piece, please contact Chinyereugo Udensi, a Clinical psychologist for support or guidance.