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International Youth Day Focuses on Mental Health

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 12 2014 (IPS) - They survived mental illnesses and escaped suicides. They found new reasons to live, new hope and they grew stronger.

These young people were invited Tuesday to participate in an event that marked International Youth Day with a focus on mental health.

They shared their stories with the world in an attempt to reach further and help others in need, because they knew that speaking out is a way to fight a mental health condition, overcome the stigma around it and encourage others to seek help.

According to a report issued Tuesday by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), 20% of the world’s young people experience a mental health condition each year. This makes for 1.2 billion people aged 15 to 24.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “The United Nations wants to help lift the veil that keeps young people locked in a chamber of isolation and silence”.

People with mental health conditions are ashamed and they don’t seek help: they are left alone when they most need to be supported.

According to various testimonies at the meeting, speaking out makes affected people stronger.

The stigma associated with having a mental health condition leads to neglect and discrimination, Ban added. Awareness needs to be raised at all levels, education is crucial to create an environment that allows people to “flourish, making valuable contribution to our collective future”. The aim is to promote their full participation in the society and prevent their exclusion.

Young people are particularly vulnerable because they are in a critical moment of their life: “A safe and healthy passage from adolescence into adulthood is the right of every child”, said Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director at the UN Population Fund.

“Being healthy means not merely the absence of illness, but complete physical, mental and social well-being” he added. As he launched the UNFPA’s #showyourselfie campaign, that calls for inclusion of the world’s youth in future policies and particularly in the post-2015 development agenda, he remarked that “Young people were not in focus in the Millennium Development Goals. They cannot be forgotten again”.

Ban said: “We have just about 500 days to reach the Millennium Development Goals. We must support all young people, especially those who are vulnerable, to succeed in this historic campaign.”

The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia Philippe Lazzarini, joined the chorus of voices and stressed the dire situation of children in war zones, who are forced to join armed groups, grow up in the streets or lose their parents to the conflict.

“Such an experience would be overwhelming in any environment, but it is even more difficult in a country where the issue of mental health is not prioritised and mental health services are minimal”.

The calls seem to be unanimous. In Lazzarini’s words: “What we need is nothing less than a paradigm shift in policies and attitudes towards the role of youth in order to empower and place them at the core of the development agenda”.

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