On Aug. 12, the U.N. hosted an International Youth Day event at its headquarters in New York City. The event focused on the importance of addressing the mental health concerns of youth around the world, thus making them less susceptible to homelessness, crime and conflict situations.
The theme of this year’s International Youth Day was “Mental Health Matters.” The half-day event in New York City brought together young people, youth organizations, U.N. Member State representatives, civil society and U.N. entities for a series of presentations including panelists and young artist performances.
This event marked the official launch of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs publication, Social Inclusion of Youth with Mental Health Conditions.
The report reveals “one-fifth of the young people around the world experience a mental health condition, with risks especially great during the transition from childhood to adulthood.”
The U.N. seeks to banish the stigma that plagues those suffering from mental illness. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned in his opening remarks that failing to address access to mental health services makes affected youth “more vulnerable to poverty, violence, and social exclusion, and negatively impacting society as a whole.”
International Youth Day was marked overseas at a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Somalia, where the mental health of the young is of particular concern. Somali youth face violence and crime on a daily basis, and many are forced to join military groups or survive on the streets.
A traumatic childhood, like that experienced by youth in Somalia, breeds mental illness. According to Philippe Lazzarini, the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Somalia, “We must be clear that 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.”
The population of those 25 years of age or younger is growing in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where young people are 70 percent of the civilian body. It is especially important for countries like the DRC to focus on mental health because the youth “are not only the Congo of tomorrow, but also the Congo of today,” said a U.N. representative from the country.
The World Health Organization recommends a range of specific actions that should be integrated into national development plans in order to break the cycle of debilitating mental illness. These strategies include supporting access to school for children with mental disabilities, integrating mental health issues into broader health policies and creating employment for those suffering from mental illness.
Assembly President John Ashe summed up the objective of this year’s International Youth Day, urging, “We should be especially focused on addressing the needs of youth with mental health conditions, many of whom experience discrimination on a daily basis. We must work together to ensure that young people with mental health conditions can lead full and healthy lives.”
– Grace Flaherty