Namibia: Walvis Teen Starts Peer-to-Peer Wellness Programme

A TEENAGER from Walvis Bay has started a programme that deals with handling mental health among the youth.

According to 16-year-old Anna Mulundu, the programme, hosted once a month, is meant to teach and assist the youth on mental health and encourage them to tell their stories on a peer-to-peer platform.

Anna, a Grade 10 pupil at the Kuisebmond Secondary School, says she was motivated to start the programme after experiencing emotional distress due to bullying at school.

She said she had always been an introvert, and kept to herself from an early age.

"I wasn't liked in school, so I would come back from school, either sad or angry because of bullying. In early December 2016, I lost my mom. I was numb from the pain. It didn't hit my mind yet. I eventually withdrew from people and lost my appetite. I went through lots of different emotions that people don't know about. I didn't notice that something was wrong," said Anna, who lives with her father and twin sister.

She says she soon realised that there were many other teenagers at school and within the community who faced similar battles in silence.

"It is such a sad reality that is not seen by just anybody. Therefore, I wouldn't want anyone to go through it all. A lot of things cross the minds of teenagers and there is little or no support system.

"Even counselling does not entirely eliminate the problem. I have been thinking about myself and everything that I have experienced. I thought to myself 'how many people go through this and suffer in silence?'"

The question of finding a solution and helping others in society has been haunting the teenager since last year. She believes mental challenges hugely contribute to social evils like drug abuse, self-harm and eventually suicide. Anna has been doing research since and is continuously seeking advice from social workers and professionals at the town.

She started her first meeting with other teenagers a month ago. During the meetings, Anna says she shares her story and also encourages her peers to open up about their distress.

One of the girls attending the session, 16-year-old Anna Ndara, said the mental health meeting was an eye-opener for her.

"I learnt the true definition of mental health. I learnt the difference between mental health and mental illness and was enlightened on ways to improve one's mental health such as having a positive mindset, having a balanced diet, showing gratitude and many more. I would like to thank her for this great initiative. I shall use the knowledge to encourage others," said Anna Ndara.

"It was such an amazing experience. We learnt a lot about mental health. I think listening to experts and those who go through tough situations opens a lot. It is so great to know that there are people in the world who support others while the world cannot see," said Fenny Shongola

Youths attending the sessions include those that have lost loved ones, people whose parents have divorced, children of single parents, orphans and those that have thought of committing suicide or went through abuse.

"If I could help teenagers suffering from mental health, then I think that, together, we could reduce the number of teenagers committing suicide and abusing drugs. Other teenagers should come out and speak out. Opening up might empower the next teenager. So let's stand together and fight the stigma," said Anna.

The town has been hit by a series of suicides by young and old, and it is especially the young cases that leave both the community and social workers puzzled.

A social worker from the Ministry of Health and Social Services at Walvis Bay, Gail Taukuheke, who sometimes meets Anna, says teenagers talking to their peers could help a lot in dealing with mental illness among the youth.

"We visit groups when their friends commit suicide and from what they tell us, it is difficult to open up to older people, even to therapists and social workers. We find that these children are opening up more to their peers because they have somehow lost trust in older people.

"They don't want to talk to us, so working with someone from their age group makes them comfortable. There are lots of emotions locked up in the minds of young people that they want to share," she said.

However, Taukuheke says she does not attend Anna's meetings because she feels the teenagers would open up more with each other than with social workers present. However, Anna refers severe cases of her peers to social workers, Taukuheke says.

Taukuheke. plans to continue supporting Anna and guiding her in facilitating the programme in the right direction and urges others to support her.

Anna plans to host a camp with many more youths to discuss issues surrounding mental issues. She hopes to get much-needed support from the community, professionals and businesses to host the camp.

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