“Feel your feelings”
UNICEF helps young people deal with COVID-19 in Indonesia
Caption (above): The young participants were asked to write one word to describe their feelings after the session. Their responses: most said they felt calm, other said they were grateful, relieved, proud, pretty good, relaxed, blessed and happy.
"I am afraid of catching COVID-19," said Ani* a young girl from Indonesia. "I've been feeling down lately," said Budi a teenage boy. "A lot of my friends are worried now, what can I do to help?" asked Nur*, another adolescent girl.
Youth today are facing many more challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With school closures, social life at a standstill, life is far from normal. Learning to cope with negative feelings is critical.
UNICEF Indonesia is working to support young people dealing with these new challenges in collaboration with Muhammadiyah, the second-largest Islamic organization in the country and Riliv, a social start-up specializing in mental health. The goal is to organize a series of online sessions to help adolescents cope with the current crisis and deal with mental health issues.
Some 1,300 adolescents and youth connected to the first session live through Facebook, where they learned practical tips on identifying symptoms and maintaining mental health, and who to contact if they need support.
More than 50 adolescents also took part in a closed Q&A session, which allowed them to share their feelings in a safe environment. Questions included dealing with fear of going out and what to do when you think too much about the pandemic.
"It's important to "feel" your feelings and reach out if you need help."
"Due to the pandemic, many adolescents are trying to deal with intense feelings of isolation and anxiety. It's important that they understand that these negative feelings are normal and, there are ways to deal with them," said UNICEF Child Protection Officer Tanti Kosmiyati Kostaman.
Geby Chyntia from Riliv took the participants through a meditation exercise. "We exercise our body, but it's important to exercise our minds as well to release stress, especially during these difficult times," she said.
The meditation session was popular among the participants. “I did the 10-minute session and felt calmer afterwards,” said Tika, a teenage girl.
Ratna Yunita, a psychologist and Coordinator for psychosocial support at Muhammadiyah told the group to be wary of spreading misinformation and also to limit the time they spend watching news. She pointed out that negative emotions can spread from one person to another.
"Think about when you watch a sad movie, and you can cry just from that. That's just a film. We are living in a difficult situation now, so our feelings are even more intense," she said.
"It's important to "feel" your feelings and reach out if you need help," she added.
One boy asked what he can do because he felt disappointed he couldn't return to his hometown after Ramadan, which is a common practice in Indonesia.
Ratna said this is a normal feeling, but it is important to understand you are not alone.
"Many people are in the same situation. Talk to family about it, and when you wake up in the morning, write down something positive about being home," she said.
In a follow up to the online session, two children who spoke about self-harm contacted Ratna for counseling.
"It's good they reached out, and they are quite open about it. This will help encourage others to seek help,” Ratna said.
Surveys conducted before and after the event showed that nearly half of the young people had not known where to get help if they or a friend needed mental health counselling. And they want to know more – including how to avoid self-harm and social issues like race, gender and sexual discrimination and how to address the issue of mental health in their communities.
UNICEF is planning to use this information to develop more sessions in the coming weeks.
"We need to continue to reach out to adolescents and youth as we move to this "new normal". "We need to provide a safe space for young people where they can speak up, ask for help, learn skills to thrive, and become change-makers in this time of crisis and beyond," concluded UNICEF Youth Engagement Officer Yukari Tsunokake.
This mental health project is part of a wider effort by UNICEF to give adolescents and youth a voice during the pandemic. Young people are also encouraged to join #COVID19Diaries – a platform to share their stories about how the pandemic is affecting their lives and how they are coping with through photos, 1-minute videos, images, drawings, etc.
For more information, visit this page.
* Not their real names.