By Bethseba Akoyo

The United Nation’s International Youth Day is celebrated on August 12th every year to acknowledge the efforts of the youth in society and foster an understanding of issues affecting the youth. This year’s theme of the International Youth Day is “Youth and Mental Health” under the motto “Mental Health Awareness”. The United Nations describes youth as individuals between the ages of 15 to 24; this description is different from some nations who view the youth as those aged between 15 years to 29 or 35 years. Regardless of the definition, youth are individuals who are in an age of transition between childhood to adulthood. During this transition, there are many significant decisions they have to make since they are faced with dilemmas that will shape their future. This age thus calls for a state of mental health and support which allows the youth to make better decisions about their wellness and that of the world at large. Mental health is a subject that gravely affects the youth as youth with mental health conditions experience a lot of discrimination. Currently, 20% of the world’s youth have a mental condition. Severe mental illnesses often begin before the age of 24 and they are characterized by psychiatric disorders which render the youth unable to make important decisions about their lives. Most of them even fall prey to suicide, which is ranked the third cause of death among youths in the globe. The common mental disorders that affect our youth are anxiety disorders, attention deficit, behavior disorders, eating disorders, schizophrenia and substance abuse. These disorders may however vary depending on the environment of an individual. The disorders are overarching affecting their general health, performance in school and work and their social lives.

There is need to protect the youth from mental disorders by giving them access to effective and modern mental health services that will not only give them the capability to better their present lives but also empower them to take charge of the future and use their ideas and talents to contribute to the development of the global society. Youth with mental health conditions should be empowered so that they can feel secure in society. The youth are our tomorrow’s leaders, activists, feminists and innovators. Investing in their mental health implies that we are investing in the future and securing a better life for future generations. We should foster mental health among youth with mental health problems through supporting their ideas and providing a platform through which they can express these ideas without intimidation. The youth also require access to comprehensive education that educates them how to solve problems facing them such as hunger and poverty, conflict and unemployment. As we observe this year’s Youth International Day, let us also keep in mind that youth with mental health conditions form a significant part of society; respecting and advocating for their rights forms a strong background from which they can rise up and take part in the development of society.

We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future – Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Bethseba Akoyo is an Intern at the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET). You can connect with her on twitter @bethbelle and email bethakoyo@gmail.com

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