A Lurking Enemy
When COVID-19 swept through the world, it drove us into a prolonged state of isolation. introducing a different, more shadowy world to the minds of vulnerable young people. It caused unbridled disruptions to their lives, with ample evidence supporting the severe impact on their mental health.
More than 1 in 7 boys and 1 in 10 girls aged 10-19 years experienced a mental health disorder. This has led to mental health becoming the second highest cause of death among girls and the third highest cause of death among boys aged 15-19 years.
UNICEF's Call to Action
With a potentially catastrophic new mental health struggle affecting young people, UNICEF East Asia & Pacific (EAP) took action to investigate the needs of these young people to ensure effective development of programmes to support the vulnerable.
With the help of Western Sydney University, over 582 young people were consulted in Malaysia, Indonesia, Fiji, and Thailand to gather detailed research and insights into the mental state of young people in these affected countries.
The Understanding of Mental Health by Young People
The respondents were asked a series of questions to gauge their own understanding of what they think 'mental health' is and what it means to them. With a couple young people from Thailand and Fiji saying:
"Mental Health is knowing when to take time off; taking a break." - Thailand
"Mental Health is about emotional damage." - Fiji
It's All Just Feelings and Emotions
A notable number of respondents just defined mental health as relating to every individual's feelings and emotions. With a young person from Malaysia saying:
"When I hear mental health, I think of something to do with the health of emotions and feelings." - Malaysia
and another from Fiji keeping it straight and to the point by saying:
"Mental health is just how a person feels" - Fiji
However, there were a number of young people who had a broader understanding of what mental health is, describing it as one's own capacity to encounter the world and deal with challenges.
Diverse Ideas from Diverse Minds
The UNICEF study continues to dive deeper into the variety of different ideas and concepts these young people have about mental health. These ideas ranged from mental health being 'deeply intertwined' with physical health, and some believed that their personal relationships had a significant benefit or detriment to their mental health.
A fair number of young people even drew a connection between mental health and their overall surroundings. Such astute observations were made in and during UNICEF and partner workshops in the respective countries, furthering understanding of what mental health is and what they feel is the root cause of it.
As the study gathered the thoughts and opinions of young people about what mental health is and where it stems from, many of them brought up contextual factors that also affect their mental health. Many are citing 'Child Marriage', 'Murder', 'Plastic Waste', etc. as contributing factors to negative mental health.
Many of these young people are actually directly affected by these factors. The isolation induced by COVID-19 saw a spike in many external factors, such as abuse, murder, and internet harassment. Unfortunately, many young people from these four nations have their mental health significantly affected, especially from abuse and internet harassment.
With so many thoughts and opinions on what defines and causes mental health degradation, the study also proceeded to ask these young people what avenues they have for support and assistance when they are struggling with their own mental health.
While the causes and definitions of it varied, the avenues of help didn't. Many cited 'friends and family', and others cited 'seeking help in communities', as well as 'seeking professional mental health support'. Most are aware that these are more than just viable avenues of support; they understand the importance of talking about them with someone they trust.
While these young minds knew several viable avenues of support, they also identified multiple issues that can be barriers for them to get the support they desperately need.
A couple of young people from Indonesia mentioned that their own parents are busy or they don't have family at home to talk about it.
Another from Malaysia even said:
"I don't know how to describe the problem." - Malaysia
The problems that they feel prevent them from seeking help are vast, and every single one of them is valid. They even fear facing shame, stigma, and judgment. Simple things like transportation are also a stated factor in not being able to seek the help that they need.
Understanding Young Minds
This study was conducted to gain a deeper understanding of mental health for and amongst young people and to also understand how they define it, the support they have, and the barriers they face.
However, most importantly, the study also identified many areas that need to strengthen education and access to mental health care for these young people. It also identified current weaknesses in systems already in place or established new systems in areas where there are none.
UNICEF has partnered with several bodies of support and individuals to help gather this vital information from Thailand, Indonesia, Fiji, and Malaysia.
One of these is BAC's own CSR arm 'Make it Right Movement' or MIRM.
Make It Right Movement (MIRM)
Founded in 2015, MIRM is BAC's CSR initiative, and its main goal is to create "a sustained positive impact on society by championing community causes both locally and globally...".
MIRM works closely with UNICEF to help support the research and analysis of understanding the state of mental health among youths in Malaysia. The MIRM team conducted focused studies on understanding barriers and much-needed support that youths identified on the topic of mental health.
Leading the charge from MIRM are Brian Lariche, Amanda Kong, Hwei Zhen, Thaddeus Gabriel Jalleh, Tristan Siew Zen Yuan.
They played an important role in UNICEF's study in the East Asia and Pacific regions in gaining a deeper understanding of the level of comprehension that young people in these regions have of mental health.
MIRM's contribution will have a long-lasting impact in establishing programmes that will directly aid and break down the barriers that were identified in this study.