FAWAKA with you(th)

Most people underestimate the impact COVID-19 has on Youth Mental Health

Jonathan Tjien-Fooh, UNV
Youth Engagement, COVID19, Mental Health
UNICEF Suriname 2020
16 June 2020

As the coronavirus continues to spread across the world, everyone is trying to adapt to this ‘new normal ‘in their own way. Adapting in these challenging times can especially be difficult for young people. UNICEF Suriname recently conducted a youth KAP survey to get more insight into how much young people know about the virus and how COVID-19 has impacted their lives.

This blog is a follow up to the key findings of the youth survey aimed at getting the stories behind the data. FAWAKA translates to “How are you doing?” in ‘Sranan Tongo’ (English-based creole language)

In this week’s ‘FAWAKA with You (th)’ we will be featuring youth advocate Fay King.

Fay is 21 years, living in Paramaribo. She is currently the co-chair of the Youth Advisory Group of the UNFPA Suriname, member of the Youth Alliance for Safe and Healthy Homes and student at FHR School of Business.

Youth Engagement, COVID19, Mental Health
UNICEF Suriname 2020
Youth Advocate Fay King

What was your first reaction when you heard about the first active COVID-19 case in Suriname?

It was very challenging to deal with all the rapid changes in my life; many big plans had to be cancelled. I also had to deal with shifting to distance learning and the uncertainty about the future. At one point, it got so bad that I got anxiety attacks and rashes over my entire body because of all the stress.

How did you manage to cope with all these changes?

I really took the time to process everything that was happening around me and then I started experimenting with different activities. I noticed that music is the best medicine! Besides this, I am also a very religious/ spiritual person, so I pray a lot, listen to meditation music and distract my mind by playing games and watching series. It’s also important to stay connected with your friends, so sometimes I play online games, video call and even exercise with my friends online.

Tell us about your experience of adapting to online education

One of the main challenges is to stay focussed; there is more distraction around you at home. In a classroom, things are a bit more interactive, while digitally things feel a bit rushed at times because you’re also tied to a certain time limit. Next to this, I also get an influx of emails, documents and reading lists…it’s a lot in a short time! And I feel like most people underestimate the impact COVID-19 has on your mental health, especially among young people! Your focus is all over the place…there is too much happening in the world…at times you’re thinking “Should I be focussing on school right now?”

How do you balance your personal life and your role as co-chair of the Youth Advisory Group?

As co-chair I try to commit to everything that has to be done, however it is also important to remind yourself that you have a certain responsibility as a leader to the group but more importantly, you have a responsibility to take care of yourself first. When I had processed everything, I got in my flow again and I felt calmer. When you recognize this as a leader, that energy also spreads to the group and we can successfully take on the tasks we have as youth organization in Suriname.

Youth Engagement, COVID19, Mental Health
UNICEF Suriname 2020
Youth Engagement, COVID19, Mental Health
UNICEF Suriname 2020
Members of the YAG during the International Youth Day Conference organized by UNICEF and UNFPA Suriname

What do you miss the most of the ‘pre-covid time’?

I am a family person, so I really miss spending time with my family physically, a lot of birthday parties got cancelled and my thoughts especially go out to the elders in my family.  I also miss going out with friends and doing real life advocacy work with the YAG in the field (visiting schools and communities)

What is your message to young people?

Stay calm but critical, stay connected with friends and family, if you have any problems on your mind, do not hesitate to talk about it with someone. There are institutions like the 123 helpline who are also there to support you. Limit your social media time and don’t watch the news too much. Stay home as much as possible; although young people are not a main COVID-19 risk group, don’t think you’re immune and can’t be infected, you can also be a danger to others.

It will be challenging for our generation, but I know we’ll get through this.

Youth Engagement, COVID19, Mental Health
UNICEF Suriname 2020