Mental Health and Our Youth
“When I was bringing up my children, at some point, I thought they had gone mad and I’d become their enemy, more so when they were teenagers and young adults” were the words shared by Dr. Mukami Njoroge the Academic Director, School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Strathmore University. She was the speaker in the webinar organized by the Wellness Committee under the People and Culture department to help address the topic of Youth and Mental Health on Wednesday, May 26th, 2021. With over 110 participants, Celestine Kanjama – Associate Manager – Student Mentoring Services at Strathmore University ensured all the questions and concerns were addressed as she steered the conversation.
What do we currently know about mental health and the youth?
Did you know that suicide is the third leading cause of death and depression is the fourth cause of illness and disability in adolescences aged 15-19-year-olds? It is also estimated that 10-20% of youth mental conditions go underdiagnosed or undertreated. 1 in 10 children or young people has been affected by a mental disorder and often reflects what is happening in their lives. Some of the mental conditions include anxiety, eating disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or attention deficit disorder (ADD), depression and other mood disorders.
How can we help youth be more resilient?
- By creating relationships – make it easy for your children to talk to you about anything. By sharing stories – As parents, we are encouraged to tell our children of our history. In exchange ask your children their stories. For example what they like, their favorite book, song, etc.
- By allowing our children to express themselves. This makes it easier for them to deal with emotions from a young age. It is important to note that during the teenage years children are undergoing a lot of hormonal changes.
- Avoiding by-stander mentality. Correct wrongs as they happen and do not say it does not matter or not my duty. For example, when you direct a toddler to do a task and they ignore you, take it upon yourself as a parent or guardian to perform the task with them soon after.
- By investing in genuine human connection – Do you have a friend that you can call at 2 am and can they say I am on my way – please do not cry alone. Having a conversation with a dependable confidant regarding a challenge you have helps “lighten” the mind and spirit.
- Teach them to reach out by helping someone else – It shift the focus from me, myself, and I and instead builds one’s sympathy and empathy muscles.
How can we begin to mend mental health challenges in our youth?
- By asking the right questions. It will help evoke emotions in them. For example, Instead of asking “How are you today? “ and getting a response of “ am fine” engage in questions that will create a conversation for example “ You do not look well today, what seems to be the problem?”
- By working to recover from our broken relationships – you are responsible for the relationship not going right. Remember for the youth it’s important to make them understand, It not about them, rather their acts that are of concern. For example, tell them “As my daughter, I get worried when you come home after 5 pm?”
- By encouraging openness and integrity. Teach them how to download/ unload what is weighing them down by calling it out as it is. Whenever we give something a name it is no longer a burden.
- By encouraging them to pay attention to their emotional hygiene. What is it that old grudges that is bubbling inside? Take care of it and do not shy away from engaging a counselor. They will help you learn or relearn or unlearn coping mechanisms.
- By calling for action in matters that pertain mental health and wellness. Engage youth in forums that will allow them to open up without fear of being judged.
According to Dr. Mukami, the ability to cope with everyday life is vital in facilitating a youth’s capacity to live a productive life. She also closed by sharing that the absence of physical pain should not negate the presence of mental pain. But over and above that she urged all people no matter gender, age, status, or role in the family to never cry alone.
Remember, helping others when you are in need builds resilience because it shifts your focus. It is in such that we build our sympathy and empathy muscles.
To learn more on what you can do to help improve the mental wellness of our youth read the Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan (2013-2020) by the World Health Organization.
This article was written by Annete Karanja.
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