12 August 2014

Africa: Celebrating Youth Day, UN Stresses Importance of Good Mental Health

Each year 20 percent of the world's young people experience a mental health condition, the United Nations reported in a new publication launched to coincide with International Youth Day which this year shines a spotlight on the importance of mental health.

"The United Nations wants to help lift the veil that keeps young people locked in a chamber of isolation and silence," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the Day, stressing that mental-health should be talked about in the same way as overall health.

He noted that lack of access to mental health services, stigma, shame, and irrational fears leave people with mental health conditions "more vulnerable to poverty, violence and social exclusion, and negatively impacting society as a whole."

Commemorating this year's theme "Mental Health Matters" at a half-day special event at the Headquarters in New York, the Secretary-General was joined by a host of UN and civil society representatives, including his Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, and Mental Health Youth Advocates Alicia Raimundo and Jordan Burnham.

Following opening remarks, young artists explored a variety of interactive and informative ways to draw awareness to mental health issues. In addition, panellists shared their experiences with mental health conditions and the impact that speaking out and seeking support has had on their lives.

The event also saw the launch of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs publication Mental Health Matters: the Social Inclusion of youth with mental health conditions. It reports that one-fifth of the young people around the world experience a mental health condition, with risks especially great during the transition from childhood to adulthood.

Vulnerable youth - such as those who are homeless; involved in the juvenile justice system; orphaned; and in conflict situations - are often more susceptible to stigma, leaving them even more adrift when they are most in need of support.

"Let us remember that with understanding and assistance, these young people can flourish, making valuable contributions to our collective future," noted Mr. Ban.

Wide-ranging efforts at all levels are needed to raise awareness about the importance of investing in and supporting young people with mental health conditions. Increased education is crucial in reducing stigma and in changing how we talk about and perceive mental health.

"We have just about 500 days to reach the Millennium Development Goals. We must support all young people, especially those who are vulnerable, to succeed in this historic campaign," the Secretary-General urged, referring to the eight anti-poverty targets whose deadline will be reached at the end of 2015.

Also participating in today's event, General Assembly President John Ashe called for everyone to celebrate young peoples' creativity and imagination.

"I encourage Member States, civil society and other stakeholders to recognize that youth participation will be essential for the successful implementation of the post-2015 development agenda," he said.

As Governments consider the 17 proposed sustainable development goals, the concerns of young people should be at the heart of each goal and its implementation. Employment, health, education and this year's theme, "Youth and Mental Health," will be central to defining the final outcomes of this new development agenda.

"We should be especially focused on addressing the needs of youth with mental health conditions, many of whom experience discrimination on a daily basis," continued the Assembly President. "We must work together to ensure that young people with mental health conditions can lead full and healthy lives."

Mr. Ashe encouraged the UN family to continue to support the work of the Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development, which promotes a multi-dimensional approach to addressing the challenges faced by young people with mental health issues to enable all young people to achieve their aspirations and goals.

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, through the Focal Point on Youth, and the Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development, promotes a multi-dimensional approach to addressing the challenges faced by young people with mental health issues, including tackling stigma and promoting social inclusion to enable all young people to achieve their aspirations and goals.

International Youth Day was also marked today in UN peacekeeping missions. In Somalia, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Philippe Lazzarini, noted that the topic of mental health is particularly relevant for Somali youth, many of whom have grown up in a country where violence and crime "were the order of the day." Young people were forced to join armed groups out of fear or economic needs, while others grew up on the streets or lost relatives to the conflict.

"We must be clear that what we need is nothing less than a paradigm shift in policies and attitudes towards the role of youth in order to empower and place them at the core of the development agenda," Mr. Lazzarini stressed in a news release from the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM).

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Martin Kobler, the head of MONUSCO, also drew attention to the role young men and women should play in the development of the country.

With nearly 70 per cent of the Congolese population 25 years of age or younger, "they are not only the Congo of tomorrow, but also the Congo of today: a Congo that moves, builds and progresses," Mr. Kobler said urging young people to be seen as genuine socio-political actors and to participate in large numbers in the ongoing electoral process.

In the Afghan capital, Kabul, the Ministry of Information and Culture, with the assistance and coordination of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), organized a high-level event about the importance of youth. More than one million of whom suffer from mental health conditions each year, according to the UN in Afghanistan.

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