Young People’s Mental Health in a Changing World

Today 10th October 2018, marks World Mental Health. This year emphasis will be on the mental health of young people. As the day draws closer I have sat for a long period wondering what is my contribution to this day. I will confess there are days I am grateful I do not have children.  I would be lost in how to raise them in a world that is so full of chaos and hopelessness.

My younger days are not the same as the young adults of today. Most certainly we did not have mental health facilities in Kenya, the professionals were our aunts, uncles and relatives to give us guidance.

We certainly did not grow up with all the amenities children have today. I counted from the top of my head,  the X-box, Nintendo, iPad, iPod, tablet, laptop and on and on in goes. If we ever got these, these were gifts for having done well in school or a Christmas present. Gadgets to entertain and distract the young ones, the effects reduced verbal and emotional communication. I looked back at my childhood, and in many ways realised how privileged I was. It was tennis, jazz dancing, piano lessons and outdoor games. Could this be the key? Social interaction.

We learnt to live and interact with our peers from every background ethnicity, class, religion and we were equals. Our parents however did not engage us in emotional growth and prepare us for the turbulence we would face in dealing with emotions. What is the word for emotions in my mother tongue? I don’t even know!  In my youth, my parents were involved in my activities, who what where I was involved in. My parents; one a civil servant the other the nurse were at parents day, supervised homework and encouraged any out of mainstream education activities. Most painful from our upbringing was family meetings, my mother congregated. We had individual objectives and family objectives that were discussed during and the end of the year. Compulsory church and Sunday lunches were not up for negotiation, this was up to the age of 18.

I thought, at weddings we always have something borrowed and something old, perhaps it is time to borrow from the old and integrate with the new. It is particularly difficult when you are a parent and you are raising a child in diaspora where you end up with two or three cultures in one house. Which one do you borrow from when raising your child.  There is the additional hopelessness and challenges of the lack of jobs for young people as they finish university.  Sometimes it is at university the onset of mental health issues arises.  How do we educate our young ones from feeling shame and reducing stigmatisation.  The new found freedom and the possibilities of drug use, college rapes or inability to cope with courses that one may not be interested in are another problem.  We should encourage our children to pursue the careers of their choice.  What happened to Technical colleges?

Children are getting depressed and others committing suicide. My belief is that we have lost our foundational values of valuing life and family. I say valuing life, particularly with the increased knife-crime in some cities and suburban areas with no clear solution just policy. Policy is supposed to be implemented and policed.  When you are an absent parent, the gangs become the family.

I have followed the news on knife crime and it was only until it affected a friend’s friend’s son, that it truly hit home. My father says, “you can only appreciate something when it enters your home”. I wonder what will become of the young man, will he strap up or get a knife to revenge. Will he recover from his trauma and are there facilities without long waiting lists to ensure that he gets the right treatment? It is no secret that mental health is a mess because of austerity cuts. How serious is Theresa May’s commitment to funding the services? Child, Adult Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are heaving with long waiting lists and I am sure increased sickness and high staff turn over does not help. Do we let the government dictate how we raise our children?
What happened to mentorship? Our children and particularly black children in some areas are lacking a good role models . As I sigh wondering what to say about today:

1. We must go back to the drawing board as communities.
2. We must dialogue and share experiences
3. We must form support groups for our young adults
4. Parents must be present, because money will soon be meaningless if you lose your child.
5. We must educate our children by getting involved in their lives by speaking to them.
6. Create the room to speak
7. Create dates with your sons and daughters
8. Teach them values and their identity which will hold them up when the tough gets going.
9. Learn to say No, No is an answer
10. Learn there is a difference between discipline and punishment.

The government cannot raise your child, besides Charity begins at home.

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