‘Connection’ as the solution to Mental Health crisis

Date: 06 July 2022

Panel 1:  Community Wellbeing and Mental Health Tuesday 5 July, 2022

Sophia Elsig

“Only 2% on average of the State’s general health budget goes towards mental health”, said Matias Irarrazaval, Regional Advisor on Mental Health and Substance Use for the Pan American Health Organisation, at the Engagement Panel focusing on mental health and wellbeing which took place at the YMCA World Council in Aarhus on 5 July 2022. “Let’s stop separating mental and physical health. Both go hand in hand.”

Yes, Danes have often been referred to as the “happiest people on earth”, but even here in Denmark, we are not sheltered from factors harming mental health, such as growing societal expectations. On top of that, the global Covid 19 pandemic has severely impacted individual and community wellbeing across the world. For example, depression has become one of the leading causes of disability, and suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among people aged 15-29 (World Health Organization, 2022). About 45,000 children die each year from suicide. We live in a mental health crisis. Young people have been disproportionately affected. The YMCA feels that they have the responsibility to create support for young people around the globe. Mental health is a crucial stepping stone to consider when advocating for one of our 4 key pillars of impact of YMCA Vision 2030:  community wellbeing. Without individual wellbeing, community wellbeing is not attainable.

Wellbeing has a significant impact on global development. It has been adopted in the United  Nations Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 3) as well as in guidelines and publications made by national governments. With growing awareness about the importance of addressing mental health issues, many non-profit groups are taking action and supporting people in need with appropriate services. However, according to Matias Irarrazaval, there has to be significantly more funding in order to create real and sustainable resources for people in need. But money does not buy happiness. Matias also believes that the response to mental health disorders should be interlinked since the roots of mental disorders are many and varied. Interventions across a range of systems and sectors – including in families, communities and schools, and through social protection – can help to promote and protect mental health.

What are some of the interventions that the YMCA has created? Various concrete examples of support were presented.  Factors influencing mental health can be different in different communities, which is why the solutions in each program reflect these local groups.

One of the panellists, Ella Gow, Youth Partnerships Lead for Orygen Global, shared how Orygen Global started its Youth Mental Health Advocacy Fellowship. It started with members of the organization getting the sense that several people were worried about mental health in their communities. They decided to tackle the concerns by asking themselves “How can we create a mental health program that is adaptable to any local context?” Over 500 young people from over 20 countries were consulted. In the end, Orygen came up with a seven-month virtual program for young people aged 18-30 from around the globe who are passionate about youth mental health and want to create change in the mental health landscape of their country. All participants acquire advocacy skills, along with an advocacy toolkit which is aimed at helping them address the issues surrounding mental health in their own communities.

Mental distress, such as anxiety is known to be a risk factor for loneliness. The pandemic did not help. Panellist Samantha Hartley-Folz, General Manager for Community Operations at the YMCA of Greater Vancouver, shared the works of Y Mind. The program brings young people together, with no medical diagnosis, but a common feeling of mental distress. They started with one group in Greater Vancouver. The physical and virtual programs were similarly successful. The Y Mind team has now served 3000 youths across 44 communities and is planning to scale up Nationally.

70% of people in the Latin America and Caribbean region do not seek out the help they need. The taboo surrounding mental health is harming a lot of communities, according to Daniel Galàn, the Manager of Programs, Services, Innovation for the YMCA actross Latin America and the Caribbean. To solve this problem, he did some research on diverse YMCA initiatives, including Y Mind in Canada: he got inspired and launched his own program.

He noticed that peer-to-peer conversations were more fruitful. Young people are more likely to confide in someone their own age, which is why he also plans on bringing young people together to share experiences. His team are only starting with this project and there are already anticipating bumps along the road. However, he is ambitious about driving positive results, and finds motivation in partnerships with different groups around the world. Daniel said, “YMCA partnerships and collaborations feel natural and easy because we share the same sense of responsibility to uplift young people around the world”.

“It takes on average 23.9 years for abuse survivors to come forward”, was only one of the unfortunate statistics shared by moderator, Phil Doorgachurn, CEO of Safeguarding, the Y’s charity for safeguarding children and young people in  Australia. Phil’s team felt the pressing need to change that number. Together with his team, he talked to children aged 3-18, to ask them about who they confide in when they have any worries. Together with the children, they came up with a system that encourages them to share difficult  experiences. The scheme helps them to identify and share information that makes them uncomfortable with trusted adults. Phil is a great believer in the importance of a safe childhood for all youth. “Children and young people’s voices are important, and we need to ensure they are heard and amplified.”

Joining from various time zones, the panellists came from very different environments. However, many issues and experiences are universal. Connecting not only people within communities but across the globe allows the exchange of ideas that just might bring us one step closer to a healthy world and thus, global youth empowerment.