Ashley, a Youth Leader for the Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health, shares her views on mental health and experience of being part of the ‘My Mind Our Humanity‘ young people’s campaign, created with support from the BeGOOD Citizens EIE study to advocate for young people’s values, preferences and experiences to be integrated in policy and action on Global Mental Health.
Mental health. Two words used to describe a state of wellbeing. Yet they are perhaps the two most misinterpreted words rarely spoken without a whispered tone or a solemn stance; that is, if these words are uttered in social spaces at all. For many whose paths I have crossed, mental health is associated with the shame and gloom that surrounds mental illness. Some may call it a taboo or ignorance, but our human response to something that does not match up with how we are supposed to behave has for years led to a knee jerk reaction, which can be characterised as a dismissal of, and prejudice towards, “peculiar” behaviour. It has also meant that we avoid conversations about mental health altogether.
A misunderstanding of terms, and the actions of our fellow global citizens, has perpetuated a stigma that associates mental health with an individual, who is unfit to function in any capacity within our global society. Unfit for friendship, love and the basic needs that we as humans need to reach our true potential in this world. This is in complete contrast to a reality where so many young people experience anxiety and depression, and on the surface live normal lives. In certain communities, such as my own, where we loosely throw around the terms “loony bin” or “mental” when referring to institutions (and other safe havens) for people struggling with their mental health; this is a further hindrance to progression on an individual and community level. We boast of a planet that is home to more youth than ever before. Brighter and more curious minds should be working together to ensure that we say goodbye to the days where only medical professionals understand the true definition of mental health.
Photos from the Global Mental Health Summit
My invitation to join the cohort of Youth Leaders for the Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health remains a resounding example of worthy and timely social responsibility, which seeks to make a mark on issues that really matter. Issues that we hope to resolve by educating the regular man or woman on the street, young people and those at the highest levels of power in our societies. The inclusion of young people for the Lancet’s Report of the Commission on Global Mental Health and Sustainable Development shatters many barriers, including gender, language and geographic barriers, by bringing together young people’s voices from every corner of the globe. We all have a unique story to tell and our motivations vary. In spite of this, we have all agreed that one of our major priorities is to eradicate the stigma of mental illness.
In Barbados, my home, recent efforts by the national government to provide greater infrastructure and invest more funds into mental health treatment have gone unnoticed in many ways, because mental health is addressed in isolation to other health services on the island. To my knowledge, Barbadian young people are not, and have never been, a part of the discussions on financing mental health reform. It is for this reason that the word ‘inclusivity’ comes to mind, when I think of the network that I am now a part of, with my fellow Youth Leaders. This inclusivity extends to the key messages that we have developed for the global mental health campaign. A campaign which uses the most dynamic and impactful platform of this century – social media. Messages, which given the plethora of nationalities we represent, can be translated into over seven languages and are gender inclusive. Our network is, in every sense, a global one: fueled by a strong sense of volunteerism from each Young Leader.
To date, I haven’t met anyone from the network face-to-face, but from the very beginning our communication has been open and efficient thanks to Skype, WhatsApp messaging and calls, as well as email servers. This, for me, is a unique advantage of engaging young people. We are already so engrossed with technology that many of us are glued to our mobiles. Tapping into the youth pool engages young people on a platform they are familiar with and allows us to reach audiences by creating posters for Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. We have collaborated on coining inspiring hashtags, such as #mymindourhumanity and #theworldneeds, to encourage users to express their visions of a brighter world. We have reached out to pop culture celebrities, high-level politicians and advocacy groups. Some members of the network have been so brave in their efforts and drafted Public Engagement documents for their local politicians. The culmination of our teamwork will result in upcoming launch events in the United Kingdom, Portugal, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa.
We have agreed that we want a world where society aspires to reduce stigma and discrimination around mental illness. A world where integrated health services means more funding for mental health services. Policies that are adopted to protect the mental health of all, especially young people, and policies and leaders that increase funding for research and innovation in mental health.
About the author – Ashley Foster-Estwick
Ashley is a member of the Network of Young Leaders for the Lancet Campaign on Global Mental Health and Sustainable Development. She is currently a student at the Faculty of Medical Sciences studying health science research. Her interest in youth, public health and human rights led her to work at the George Alleyne Chronic Disease Research Centre adn the title of Women Deliver Young Leaders for Barbados.
Link with Ashley @MyMindOurHumanity.