By Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor
Which political party will talk about investing services and monies into the development of our youth? I am yet to hear of plans or agendas from any forum which can support our young people to ensure that they reach their full potential and help to build a sustainable and inclusive society.
Which party will also take action to address the mental health crisis and the needs of our youth, as the fallout due to the present pandemic result in serious changes that are affecting them at psychological and socio-economic levels?
Youth unemployment rates are rising and there is a wave of hopelessness among our children and adolescents which is leading to increased levels of alcohol and drug use and abuse, anti-social behaviours, mental health problems and suicide, self-harm, eating disorders and depression.
Have the recent protests both globally and locally, mostly fuelled by the rage and frustrations of young people, taught us nothing? More than 70 per cent of the calls to the CIT (Crisis Intervention Team, Association of Psychologists) hotline in the past few weeks have been made by parents seeking help for their teenage and young adult children.
Their mental health issues range from severe depression, apathy, and hopelessness to attempted suicide, self-harm, and substance abuse. And yes, unfortunately, there have been suicides.
Research shows that for every teen suicide, there are another 200 or more teens who are struggling with depression, ADHD, addictions, or schizophrenia. Suicide most often occurs when mental illness—and the conditions that place children and teens at risk for mental illness—are not addressed.
It is, therefore, crucial to instil hope in our young people and build an awareness of the many solutions to their problems. Which political party will face these challenges and address the issues in a proactive, goal-oriented way?
Compared to adults, young people are especially at risk of creating vulnerabilities or developing mental health disorders as they face many new pressures and challenges in their daily lives. On an individual level, mental health problems can have deteriorating effects on young people’s social, intellectual, and emotional development and consequently on their future (World Health Organization).
Furthermore, there are close links between child and adult mental illness and the presence of mental illness during childhood may lead to up to ten times higher costs during adulthood.
In addition, which programmes are directly aimed at our young men to help alleviate the related issues of mental illness? Young men are less likely than women to seek professional help for depression, substance abuse, and stressful life events.
Youth programmes have been too few in addressing this chronic need and many tend to be deficit-oriented, emphasising youth problems and a skewed focus on what is wrong with our young people rather than what is right.
Therefore, it is important to focus on preventive programmes that can lead to positive changes in the psychological and behavioural adjustment of adverse childhood experiences (ACES), and increase the academic performance and cognitive skills in young people as proactive strategies to prevent mental health problems in adulthood.
Mental illness in young persons is an urgent public health issue that is not significantly addressed in this society. Vote for and lobby for the inclusion of these programmes in the political agendas.
The political and economic gurus should realise that the talent and energies of our young people are necessary to transform the country and if this is to happen, there must be meaningful dialogue and strategic action towards investment in their future. I do not want to see young people standing on the political platforms only. Let me hear about the plans to address the rising rates of mental illness in youth.
Dr Nakhid-Chatoor is a clinical and educational psychologist, and immediate past President of the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Psychologists (TTAP).