Back when I was in high school, the girls in my class would take part in a most horrific act. Seldom were the days when I would look at the back of one of their wrists and not notice several insidiously carved cuts. At that time I never paid too much attention to it since it was so prevalent. Every now and then one of the guys in my class would take up what was then a popular ‘coping’ activity, and follow suit.
About 15 years ago, the United Nations General Assembly declared August 12 to be International Day of Youths. This year the theme is “Youth and Mental Health.” It’s needless to say, but I will nevertheless reiterate the fact that the issue of mental health, sleeps within our society like a dormant volcano, sending brief spews of ember into the air, threatening to erupt at any moment. However, it almost never erupts, and those short moments of activity are more or less ignored, but the volcano is ever present.
Adolescence as most of you would know is perhaps the single most challenging period of any individual’s life. The changes which one experiences during this time can be most overwhelming to deal with. The pressure is enormous as children seek to fulfill theirs and their parents’ dreams of becoming successful adults. It is critical that youths are provided with much needed guidance and support throughout this ardent stage of their life, so as to prevent the development of mental health issues later on. Many however, fall prey to the countless opportunistic deterrents that lie in wait.
It is often thought that mental health issues such as depression are “adult” problems. This surely is not the case, but appears so as a result of us examining adolescents’ issues with adult minds. Quite frankly, most persons don’t feel that children and teens have nearly enough problems to be “stressed” about. But the key to understanding how mental health issues affect young people is to remember that young minds are still developing and simply don’t have the capacity to deal with many problems unaided.
The WHO defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Emphasis is placed on the fact that mental health “is not just the absence of mental disorder.” The UN has found that 20% of the world’s youths experience mental health problems each year.
The effects of poor mental health systems are quite obvious in Guyana. After all, we have been ranked the most suicidal country per capita in the continent (45 suicides per 100,000 persons, with one-fourth being women). The Mental Health Ordinance of 1930 is severely outdated and in need of urgent review. There appears however, to be some amount of hope as the Ministry of Health promises to launch a National Mental Health Action Plan this October, with the aim being to address many of the mental health issues that face our nation.
As I look back at my high school experience, I wish that I had been equipped then, with the knowledge I have now. I’m not sure who is to blame for what took place in my class and many other classrooms throughout this country. We need to look deeper as a nation and realize that mental health care is not a first-world luxury. My heart goes out to all the young minds who take to self-injury as a way of dealing with their problems. I am glad that none of the girls in my class decided to make their self inflicted wound a fatal one.
N.B. “Self-injury is not always a result of mental illness but can be a sign of a mental problem” (for more information click here)