Building Resilience and Mental Health Capacity of Youth

Building Resilience and Mental Health Capacity of Youth

Youth mental health in Sri Lanka was the focus of an APDA-supported two-day workshop. Credit: ILO
  • by Cecilia Russell (sri jayawardenepura kotte & athens)
  • Inter Press Service

IPS: According to my research, Sri Lanka has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. While the revised mental health policy for 2020–2030 identifies the needs of adolescents and youth, it would seem there are few policies and programmes that deal specifically with the issue for youth. How are parliamentarians addressing this issue?

Hector Appuhamy: Suicide rates in Sri Lanka have indeed been a concerning issue, with the country historically having one of the highest rates globally. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Sri Lanka’s suicide rate was estimated at 14.6 per 100,000 population in 2016. While addressing this issue, it’s imperative to recognize that mental health policies and programs tailored specifically for youth are crucial in mitigating such challenges.

As parliamentarians, we understand the urgency of addressing mental health issues among youth, including the risk of suicide.

Even though the mental health policy for 2020–2030 recognizes the needs of young people, there aren’t enough programs in place to help them properly. In response, parliamentarians are working on different ways to tackle this issue.

The new statistics have made government officials and parliamentarians take a closer look at mental health services in Sri Lanka, especially for young people. They’ve realized that there aren’t enough programs or resources to help young people with their mental health. So, parliamentarians are trying to find out why this is happening and what needs to change. They’re doing assessments to find the gaps and come up with new policies and programs to help young people with their mental health.

Parliamentarians are also working with different groups, like the government, charities, and mental health experts, to find solutions. They’re trying to develop programs that specifically address the needs of young people. By working together, they hope to make sure that young people’s mental health is a priority and that they get the help they need.

The proposed program isn’t just about fixing things now—it’s about planning for the future too. Parliamentarians want to make sure that young people in Sri Lanka have the support they need for their mental health, both now and in the years to come.

IPS: Only a small proportion of the 5% of national expenditure that is spent on health, is used for mental health. One of the shortcomings is the resource gap. What ways, including involving the private sector, are parliamentarians working on to ensure that the funds and programmes become available for youth mental health?

Appuhamy: Addressing the resource gap in mental health services, particularly for youth, necessitates a multi-faceted approach involving collaboration with both public and private sectors.

Organizations including APDA, UNDP, and UNICEF always support Sri Lanka through diverse programs. Recognizing this imperative, we are to initiate discussions aimed at devising strategies to secure funding and attract support from these and many other organizations. This novel initiative seeks to garner their attention and enlist their support in fortifying the resilience of our youth, given their established track record of extending aid where it is most needed.

By underscoring the pivotal role of mental health services for young people, we endeavor to ensure a substantial allocation of the health budget towards mental health initiatives. In line with these efforts, discussions are underway to implement the following initiatives:

Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs): Promote partnerships between the government and private sector entities, such as corporate organizations and philanthropic foundations, to support youth mental health programs. These partnerships can involve financial contributions, in-kind donations, or expertise sharing to enhance the effectiveness and reach of mental health services.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Initiatives: Parliamentarians will collaborate with private sector companies to develop CSR initiatives focused on youth mental health. Through CSR programs, companies can allocate resources, including funding, employee volunteering, and in-kind support, towards addressing mental health challenges among young people in their communities.

Incentives for Private Sector Investment: Parliamentarians may propose incentives, such as grants, subsidies, or preferential access to government contracts, to encourage private sector investment in youth mental health programs. These incentives can attract private sector participation and stimulate innovation in mental health service delivery.

By employing these strategies and fostering collaboration between the public and private sectors, parliamentarians aim to bridge the resource gap and ensure that funds and programs are available for youth mental health initiatives in Sri Lanka.

IPS: WHO suggests that supportive environments, education and awareness, the involvement of youths in policy development, peer support with trained peers, and the collection of reliable data are all crucial to assisting with youth mental health How are lawmakers ensuring that a comprehensive social package is available to address mental health in youth?

We acknowledge the significance of a comprehensive approach to addressing mental health issues among youth, a stance echoed by the World Health Organization (WHO). In Sri Lanka, the existence of a youth parliament comprising young participants endowed with diverse insights and innovative ideas underscores the potential reservoir of knowledge within this demographic. As parliamentarians, we are committed to adapting our strategies by actively involving youth in decision-making processes.

In our capacity as parliamentarians, we are strategizing to actively engage young individuals in the formulation of mental health policies and programs. By integrating youth voices and perspectives into policymaking endeavors, we endeavor to ensure that mental health initiatives are contextually relevant, responsive, and inclusive of the unique needs and preferences of young people.

We are trying to push for more education and awareness campaigns to increase understanding of mental health issues among youth, families, educators, and communities. These campaigns aim to destigmatize mental illness, promote early intervention, and provide information about available resources and support services.

As parliament members, we prioritize the collection of reliable data on youth mental health to inform evidence-based policies and programs. This includes monitoring mental health indicators, prevalence rates, service utilization, and outcomes to assess the effectiveness of interventions and identify areas for improvement.

By implementing these strategies and collaborating with stakeholders, lawmakers strive to create a supportive and inclusive environment that promotes the mental health and well-being of youth in Sri Lanka. Through ongoing efforts and investments, they aim to build a sustainable framework that addresses the complex and evolving mental health needs of young people.

IPS: What outcomes do you expect from your two-day conference aimed at educating university students about mental health issues?

Appuhamy: Our strategy entails convening approximately 40 students from diverse universities across the nation for a comprehensive two-day conference, structured as a residential program. This initiative, aimed at educating university students about mental health issues, is anticipated to yield numerous beneficial outcomes:

Firstly, the conference aims to enhance awareness and deepen understanding among university students regarding various facets of mental health. Topics to be covered include identifying mental health issues, coping mechanisms, triggers for such issues, relevant laws and regulations, avenues for seeking assistance, and contact information for relevant authorities. These crucial insights will be imparted to students through interactive sessions facilitated by esteemed resource persons, including university professors, a consultant psychiatrist, a chief inspector of police, a deputy solicitor general, and motivational speakers.

Furthermore, the program seeks to achieve several objectives, including:

Reduced Stigma: By providing accurate information and fostering open discussions, the conference aims to reduce the stigma surrounding mental issues. This can help create a more supportive and accepting environment where students feel comfortable discussing their mental health concerns and seeking assistance when needed.

Improved Help-Seeking Behaviors: The conference will equip students with knowledge about available mental health resources and support services, empowering them to seek help proactively for themselves or their peers who may be struggling with mental health challenges.

Enhanced Coping Skills: Through workshops, presentations, and interactive sessions, students will learn practical strategies for managing stress, building resilience, and promoting mental well-being. These skills can empower students to navigate the pressures of university life more effectively.

Inspiration for Advocacy and Action: By hearing from experts, advocates, and individuals with lived experience, students may be inspired to become mental health champions within their university community and beyond. This can lead to increased advocacy efforts, initiatives to improve campus mental health services, and broader societal change.

Long-term Impact: The knowledge and skills gained during the conference have the potential to have a lasting impact on students’ mental health and well-being throughout their academic journey and beyond. By investing in mental health education and awareness at the university level, we aim to create a culture of support and resilience that benefits students for years to come.

IPS: How are parliamentarians encouraging universities’ leadership (both academic and student) to ensure that mental health programs are available to students?

Appuhamy: We are cognizant of the fact that our current engagement with universities may not be sufficient to address mental health issues among students. Consequently, we are planning to open discussions with higher-ranking officials to elevate the prominence of this matter. Through these dialogues, we aim to shed more light on the challenges faced by students regarding mental health and identify priority areas for intervention. By fostering open communication with university authorities, we seek to enhance our understanding of the specific needs and concerns of students, thus enabling us to tailor our approach more effectively and address mental health issues comprehensively within the university setting.

As parliamentarians, we are proposing to engage directly with university leadership, including academic administrators, deans, and student affairs officials, to discuss the importance of mental health and encourage proactive measures to support student well-being. This may involve meetings, forums, and consultations to share best practices and identify areas for improvement.

It is a plan to exercise legislative oversight to ensure that universities are fulfilling their responsibilities in addressing mental health issues among students. They may conduct hearings, inquiries, or audits to assess the effectiveness of mental health programs and hold universities accountable for meeting established standards. So that they can manage the issues arising due to harassment happening with the universities, which leads to problems in student’s mental health capacity.

Overall, parliamentarians play a vital role in advocating for the availability of mental health programs at universities by engaging with university leadership, allocating resources, fostering collaboration, and promoting student involvement. By working together, they can create supportive environments where students have access to the resources and support, they need to thrive academically and emotionally.

IPS: Is there anything else you would like to add?

In closing, I would like to emphasize the critical importance of prioritizing mental health at all levels of society, including within educational institutions like universities. Mental health issues among students not only impact academic performance but also have profound implications for overall well-being and future success.

As parliamentarians, educators, healthcare professionals, and community leaders, we have a collective responsibility to ensure that mental health programs and support services are accessible, inclusive, and effective. By investing in mental health education, destigmatization efforts, and proactive intervention strategies, we can create environments where students feel valued, supported, and empowered to prioritize their mental well-being.

Additionally, it’s essential to recognize that addressing mental health requires a holistic and multi-sectoral approach. Collaboration between government agencies, academic institutions, healthcare providers, NGOs, and community organizations is essential to creating comprehensive solutions that address the diverse needs of students and promote a culture of mental well-being.

I encourage continued dialogue, collaboration, and advocacy to advance mental health initiatives in Sri Lanka and beyond. Together, we can make meaningful strides towards creating a society where mental health is valued, supported, and prioritized for all individuals, including our youth.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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© Inter Press Service (2024) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service



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