Tucking away mental health issues as a secret can be painful, leaving one feeling lonely and helpless. But everyone from Selena Gomez to Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber will tell you how merely talking about it can be cathartic. Acceptance is the first sign to recovery, and as things stand, it seems like the UAE’s youngsters have got that right. Bold and fearless, they are now driving for change when it comes to stigmas and conversations around mental health.
We speak to a few such young minds who are keen to find a cure — not just for themselves, but also to help one another battle anxiety, stress and depression head on.
A universal issue
Studies by World Health Organization (WHO) released last month state that mental health conditions account for 16 per cent of the global burden of disease and injury in people aged 10-19 years. It further noted that half of all such conditions begin by the age of 14, with most cases going undetected and untreated.
Minal Edwards, a 17-year-old student of psychology, who has been utilising her time to research the effects of the pandemic on teenagers’ physical and emotional well-being, shares that whilst online school, Zoom calls, and Netflix binging may seem to be the ‘relaxing new normal’ lifestyle, it isn’t a breeze. “We are missing out on a lot of the ‘occasions’ of our adolescence like graduation, proms and birthdays. We are also combating the anxiety of an uncertain future with regard to university applications, etc,” she says.
Grade 11 student Muhammad Zuhair Khan of Raha International School, Dubai, adds, “Whether evident or unclear, chances are the quarantine is taking a toll on you. Isolation can combat the spread of Covid-19, but it is impacting our psychological well-being, making one frustrated, lonely, and stressed about the future.”
In this, together
Despite the challenges, Aparna Nair, Grade 10 student, GEMS Our Own English High School, Dubai, believes we need to remember that each of us is loved and deserves to be happy. “Journal your feelings or talk to someone you trust or to a professional. Connect with people who you’ve lost touch with and maintain a routine,” she urges.
Minal suggests a shift in mindset from ‘fixed’, a belief that our abilities are set in stone, to ‘growth’, a belief that we can cultivate skills through perseverance. “Turn your social media platforms into a safe space, filter the posts you want to see, and only believe news updates from reliable and credible sources,” she advises.
Muhammad further proposes a practice of deep breathing, regular exercise, eating balanced meals, and getting enough sleep. “Stay in touch with loved ones, even if through social media. This will reduce the effect of isolation or disconnection you may feel,” he says.
Deepthi, a recent graduate of GEMS OOEHS Dubai, emphasises the need to encourage youngsters to seek help, especially considering she’s come across those who’ve engaged in self-harm due to these issues. “Handling mental illness is never easy. It’s like a paralysis that affects our mind. Your friends and family can help, but they are not experts. We need to open up about problems and normalise visits to the therapist.”
Break the stigma
Advanced NLP practitioner Sehrish A Khan couldn’t agree more. “We seek professional help when our cough lasts more than a week because we fear it might develop into a prolonged illness. But, when despondency surrounds us, when we feel low without reason, when negative thoughts loom in our mind, when we know we are not our usual self, we force ourselves to smile and say, ‘I am good.’ Why don’t we seek mental help? Why don’t we fear that something that started with a mere feeling of gloominess or negative self-talk can turn into something as serious as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse?”
The motivational speaker stresses the importance of recognising the symptoms and understanding that they are curable. “Most of these conditions start in the youth. Parents should seek help for their kids when needed, instead of telling them not to mention it before their friends or suggesting that they’d be fine on their own.”
Each of us has the ability and strength to deal with all sorts of situations. Sometimes, we are not aware of how to unlock our potential — that’s where professional assistance is required.
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