The theme of Wednesday’s World Mental Health Day was ‘Young people and mental health in a changing world’. It is vital we look after everyone’s mental health, but young people in today’s world face a unique set of challenges.
The World Federation for Mental Health, which founded the day, said it chose this focus in 2018 because “young people are spending most of their day on the internet – experiencing cyber crimes, cyber bullying, and playing violent video games”.
It added: “Suicide and substance abuse numbers have been steadily rising, LGBTQ youth are feeling alone and persecuted for being true to themselves, and young adults are at the age when serious mental illnesses can occur and yet they are taught little to nothing about mental illness and well-being.
“We want to begin the conversation … so young people grow up healthy, happy and resilient.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), suicide is a leading cause of death among 15-to-29-year-olds, and one in five young people struggle with mental illness.
The numbers are growing and, indeed, our own community has been saddened by the suicides of several young people this year.
We must talk to all our young people and educate them about emotional health. We must tell them in our schools it is all right to talk about their mental health and confide in a trusted adult, whether a parent, guardian, counsellor or teacher.
We must make them aware of free non-judgmental services such as the Samaritans or, if they feel more comfortable, the Jewish helpline. We must put mental health education and well-being for the young on the agenda throughout the Jewish community, as has begun to happen with charities such as Jami, Noa Girls and Migdal Emunah.
We must train teachers in Jewish schools in mental health first aid and make sure struggling students have access to help. Social media can exacerbate mental health issues such as self-esteem and body image as well as bullying, but it can also be a positive force.
I relate to the theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day because when I was 16 I was trying to navigate my GCSEs with severe depression. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and hospitalised at the Priory in north London during the first year of my A- levels. At times, I had suicidal thoughts owing to the disorder, but the support of my family and school helped me through it.
My school, Immanuel College, was fantastic. I saw a counsellor who recommended a psychiatrist and I had the help I needed. We had little mental health education at school, but the teachers were remarkable. Their care helped me to feel comfortable and come back to school when I was recovering – and helped get me to university.
My experience then will not be the same for everyone.
That’s why it is vital adults check in with young people and, if they notice any signs of Illness, make sure safeguarding is put in place for them.
Suicides and self-harm are on the rise. I hope schools will start adopting suicide prevention programmes, prioritising well-being and mental health education and encouraging children to talk if they feel they can. Some have, but there is more to be done.
We can’t prevent every suicide or episode of illness, but by supporting the emotional health of young people in our community by being non-judgmental and seeing them for who they are, we can make a change.
Eleanor Segall, mental health campaigner – www.beurownlight.com
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