OPINION: “We are given the immense honour and power of being the next generation of leaders”

By Phyllis Huang

This opinion piece is part of a series written by our #Youth members, for our Voices of Children & Young People Around the World report.

 

The Right to be Heard and Taken Seriously: The Pertinence of Youth Mental Health 

If someone had a physical injury from playing sports, the gravity of the injury would not be questioned. Friends and family would recommend them to see a physician and to treat the injury with all necessary meansYet, when youth are struggling mentally, they are often told to “toughen up”, or that it is just a “phase”Globally, mental health is ranked first in the reasons for contact reported by child helplines. In the Americas and the Caribbean, mental health constituted 24.6% of reasons for contact 

Data points are simply numbers until we decipher them to understand the individualized experiences of struggling youth. If a child says that they want to speak in private, we should listen with our attention, undivided and empathetically. Children are calling in and asking for help. How can we as a society continue to disregard emotional distress and self-harm as main concerns that we must help youth overcome?  

Youth mental health is multifaceted and can be further broken down into demographic segments. In the data report, we see that girls account for most mental health sub-categories. We should be perceptive to how young girls are feeling and ensure that even if they are receiving help from a child helpline, that we continue to support them. Although girls are unfortunately overrepresented, we need to be concerned about young boys as well. In 2015, Kids Help Phone, a national child helpline in Canada introduced BroTalk for teen boys. Boys are 31% less likely to discuss their feelings or reach out for help as they present a stereotypical “strong” exterior image. This does not mean that they are not struggling. When focus groups were conducted for BroTalk, Kids Help Phone found that boys often felt stigma, embarrassment, and shame. These are additional barriers that we need to overcome. 

As youth ourselves, we are given the immense honour and power of being the next generation of leaders. It is my hope that we become compassionate and perceptive leaders who take action. Whether it is to vote in local and national elections for more funding for mental health programsdonate financially to a child helpline, or donate time through volunteering.

 

Phyllis Huang is a member of Child Helpline International’s #Youth advisory council.