Feeling sad, stressed or anxious while coping with COVID-19 is normal. It's not only the fear and anxiety about the coronavirus disease but also being away from schools, friends and relatives. Adjusting to new ways of learning and working is hard. But guess what? You are not alone.
This site and all the content in it was developed by participants of UNICEF's Youth Mediathon who were challenged to reimagine mental health and wellbeing for every child: Malek Abidi, Nala Kamel, Njung'e Wanjiru, Amhanosi Anegbe, Emmanuel Adjanor, Oluwadunsin Adesopo, Aisha Animasaun and Arinze Onyisi, under the mentorship of Carolina Lahoud Doumet and Carter Hansen.
UNDERSTANDING MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLBEING
In a chaotic world such as ours, the need for stable mental health and sense of well-being can never be overemphasized. Irrespective of global diversity, we all have a collective desire for a better sense of well-being amidst the chaos. Mental health & Well-being is a part of life seeing as Mental health makes up for 10% of global burden diseases (WHO) and 30% non-fatal disease burden (WHO). The state of our Mental Health affects how we think, the emotions we feel, and the actions that we eventually carry out.
Our emotional, psychological, and social well-being are all grouped under the umbrella of Mental Health. Mental health is crucial, especially in the early stages of our lives because if one stage has a default, the whole system is ruined. The adolescent stage has proven to be the formative years in one’s life but sadly, statistics show that the adolescent demographic are most vulnerable to mental health defects and this goes on to impact their lives as adults. 75% of all mental disorders develop by the age of 25 (UNICEF) and 1 in 5 adolescents experience mental health conditions (UNICEF).
This is exactly why mental health matters and should matter. Your voice, my voice— our voices— would make a whole lot of difference. Together, we can re-imagine the future of the Mental Health & Well-being of every Child.
Do you know that different indicators tell us the state of our mental health? Well, here are a few to help you know when you/ someone you know are approaching code red with mental suffering or are in a good state of mental well-being. We’ve highlighted a few of these pointers for you!
Mind you, while we have presented these lists with the aim of aiding easy identification of certain signs that points out the state of our mental health, these indicators are not in any way limited to the below-listed signs and there are others not mentioned here that you should also be on the lookout for!
Check out these three indicators of mental suffering that may mean that you or someone close to you may need help…
Sadness is a normal human emotion that you may experience at different times as a result of the situation you are in. There are times of momentary sadness where you do not feel 💯. This is quite common among adolescents. No cause for alarm! However, pay close attention to your mental health if moments of sadness/unhappy moods gets worse instead of better, becomes more frequent and takes longer time to pass.
Stress from our environment can cause us to feel distressed. During the COVID-19 crisis, people tend to be more stressed. Youth are worried about their academic/professional careers and also about their relationship with friends as a result of the lockdown. In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.
Feelings of guilt and worthlessness are often associated with mental suffering. You may think you have nothing to offer to the world and are not worthy of being in it. Social platforms also play a huge role in our daily lives and may influence us positively or negatively, especially with the recent increase in the use of social media during the pandemic. You may have compared yourself to people on social media which made you question your worth. Here’s a quick reminder to not believe everything you see on the internet and to stop wishing to be like someone else because :
You are you for a reason!
You are enough just the way you are!
What about the positive signs of mental health or wellbeing?
Happiness comes when you feel satisfied and fulfilled. Happiness is a feeling of contentment, that life is just as it should be. Perfect happiness, enlightenment, comes when you have all of your needs accomplished.
What this means is that finding happiness is not achieved by fighting for it, but rather it is the product of a particular set of ongoing life events.
We cannot separate the importance of a sense of belonging from our physical and mental health. The social ties that accompany a sense of belonging are a protective factor helping us manage stress and anxiety , it’s a human need!
When we feel we have support and are not alone, we often cope more effectively with difficult times in our lives. Coping well with hardships decreases the physical and mental impact of these situations.
Having a sense of belonging is crucial, considering the groups and labels we give ourselves in our daily lives. We are members of families, sporting teams, hobbyists, spiritual groups, charities, political parties, cities, countries and nationalities, which means that every aspect of our lives is organized around belonging to something.
One of the most accurate and captivating definitions of Peace of mind is the "absence of worry”. It’s achieving a calm state of mind regardless of your situation and circumstances.
The most important step to achieving peace is to acknowledge the fact that you have control over your mind, including your thoughts and how you respond to others.
MENTAL HEALTH AND ME
Amhanosi Anegbe, Lagos, Nigeria.
Mental health, to me, has to do with the overall well-being and state of my mind. As physical health is to the body, mental health is to the mind. I feel the mind is very complex and Mental Health covers a wide spectrum; from mental wellness, to mild mental instability and then severe mental illnesses/disorders.
For me, mental health is closely linked to mental awareness. Being aware of my mind and what goes on in there. My thoughts, my feelings, and my emotions are a few of the internal factors that influence my mental health. On the other side of the spectrum are a few of the external factors (childhood experiences/ trauma, the environment I live in, my social communities, friend groups, religious denomination, school...), that have played/ play a role in defining my mental health.
Being aware of both internal and external factors and also being able to balance, control or adapt— according to what works best— constitute what mental health & well-being means to me and this has also been the highlight of my mental health journey as an adolescent.
Njung’e Wanjiru, Nairobi, Kenya
I always view mental health as the ability to let out my emotions in different ways for the well-being of my mind and body. It also relates heavily to engage in courses and activities that I am really passionate about. The world always has its challenges, which come and go uncontrollably, but for me, practicing art as therapy has always been my way of coping with stress and anxiety. Engaging in art helps me improve creativity and as well as boosting my confidence.
So, in as much as mental health can be a challenge, staying positive, collaborating, and connecting with others play a key role in my mental wellness. Having open conversations with my mother provides comfort and a strong bond.
My mantra always has been, Healthy mind + Healthy body = A happy life.
Aisha Animasaun, Lagos, Nigeria
In Nigeria where millions live with mental illness and not enough professionals to care for her sick population, things might seem quite hopeless. Slowly, through social media primarily mental health is slowly becoming a mainstream topic. While the stigma is real, it gets better each day.
I can tell you this because three years ago I sat in the psychiatric ward utterly alone and confused. I knew why I was there. But why did I have to be there? I had no blueprint on what to do, no one who looked like me to ask for advice. And after six weeks in the ward, as I packed my bags to finally leave I promised myself that I would find answers and try to make sure no one felt as lonely as I did for those six weeks.
Mental Health to me is not just how well or bad my mind feels on an individual level. In the words of Nakita Valerio, "Shouting 'self-care' at people who actually need community care is how we fail people." People need to feel connected and cared for. They need to feel like they matter.
In the three years since I was discharged, there have been two major organizations doing amazing grassroots work; Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative and She Writes Woman. These are household names among Nigerian youths and whenever someone is indicating suicidal tendencies online; people are quick to tag MANI’s twitter handle and the team finds a way to reach the suicidal person. This should be the government's job, but in a country where the budget for health is less than 5%, the Ministry of Health can't prioritize mental health over other more “obvious” diseases. And in a country where the culture surrounding mental health is mostly disbelieving and spiritual, Nigeria is in no hurry to fix her mental health problem.
When we say 1 in 4, this means you or someone you know will have a mental health challenge at least once in their lifetime. When we say mental health matters, we mean that Nigeria is ranked 15th in the world, and the seventh highest in Africa for suicide attempts. Things can change. Mental health crises can be prevented. But what are we willing to do for this to happen?
Oluwadunsin Oluwaseyitan Adesopo, Osun State, Nigeria
Mental health has always been an aspect of health I take important. It's a major determinant of one's life.
Personally, I view mental health as the ability to make one's "DISABILITY AN ABILITY ". Talking about my mental health, I get depressed easily because I stutter. And this has affected me in many areas of my life especially my academic life.
My course of study happens to be a course where I take presentations, talk to patients, and ask questions but this hasn't been easy for me to do. There were days I ran out of class crying because I couldn't take my presentation fluently.
So far, I have been able to take over my mental health by doing things I love which includes conducting interviews, creating videos talking about my favourite aspect of my course, reproductive health. This has so far made me gain the courage to speak to people and has improved my mental health.
Our mental health is linked to many things. A lack of one of these things will surely affect the mental health. Therefore, we should do great things that will improve it.
Do things you love, things that make you happy.
Want to learn more about mental health? Check out these resources by UNICEF and Voices of Youth:
Mukhtar Bello, 17
ABOUT THE GROUP
Malek Abidi is a 21-year-old Tunisian committed to raising awareness through her Social Media platforms about Gender Equality, Climate Change and Harassment.
"In the future, I hope to start my own social enterprise and create opportunities for my country by developing innovative systems for people, knowledge, and equipment to achieve shared prosperity and promote sustainable development in rural areas across the Middle East."
Nala Kamel is a 19-year-old Communications and Media Arts student from Egypt passionate about gender equality and women empowerment.
"I am using my social media platforms not only to present entertaining content but also to influence youth and give them a daily dose of confidence and motivation."
Njung'e Wanjiru is a 23-year-old freelance artist working and living in Nairobi who likes expressing the vibrant spirit and atmosphere of the African culture.
"I really care about telling African Stories about great and influential people that have almost been forget. I want to document each story though animation and film."
Amhanosi Anegbe is a 20-year-old Nigerian creative whose vision is to see more mentally healthy and stable individuals take on the world and help people “Be intentional” about their lives and mental health.
"I hope for a world where individuals are mentally healthy to take on tasks. The mind is the operating system of our lives and it is important that we are intentional about the state of our minds."
Emmanuel Adjanor is an 18-year-old U-reporter, journalist, and volunteer at UNICEF Côte d'Ivoire who writes novels to sensitize young people to be more aware and responsible in their actions.
"I fought and I am still fighting against fake news and online violence, by doing research to bring the right information and show young people the importance of peace on the Internet."
Oluwadunsin Adesopo is a 21-year-old fourth year medical student from Nigeria who loves singing, dancing, taking pictures and interviewing people, passions she shows on her Instagram account.
"So far, I have been able to create awareness of family planning methods in Nigeria by conducting a quiz on my Instagram page, interviewing a doctor on reproductive health topics, sharing graphic designs on family planning. I'm glad so many people have been able to learn from it."
Aisha Animasaun is a 23-year-old Nigerian Muslim woman who has found comfort in exploring her identity through the medium of words. She is passionate about helping other women live lives that are true to them and their truths by breaking the culture of shame around being open and vulnerable about their experiences and struggles.
"As a content creator, my work revolves around creating safe spaces for women like me so they don't feel like they need permission to exist."
Arinze Onyisi is a 22-year-old photographer from Nigeria. Over the years he has fallen in love with taking photographs as a way to express himself.
"I care about freedom and equality of genders. I care about fighting injustice in the community. Most importantly, I care about the sensitization of the world about the black race and the African community."