Young people take the lead on mental health
In Indonesia, online sessions for young people by young people provide mental health and psychosocial support in the time of a pandemic
JAKARTA, Indonesia – "I feel very stressed,” said a 21-year-old youth from Central Java, describing how her life has been impacted by the pandemic. “Life on social media pressures me. Many emotions are hidden – it feels like wanting to be born again and start over.”
With COVID-19 cases rising and large-scale social restrictions still in place across much of Indonesia, young people continue to face daunting challenges to their mental health and well-being.
According to a U-Report poll conducted in August 2020 with over 600 participants from around the country, more than half of respondents (53 per cent) said they feel pressure to stay productive during the pandemic. A majority (33 per cent) said the stress has led to a lack of concentration during online learning, while 25 per cent said they feel easily irritated, angry or upset.
In response, UNICEF has partnered with CIMSA (Center for Indonesian Medical Students’ Activities) to launch a series of bi-weekly online sessions that provide mental health and psychosocial support for young people. The sessions – which are held via Zoom and streamed live on the CIMSA YouTube channel – invite young representatives and experts for Q&A sessions and short talks moderated by CIMSA and each have a unique theme covering different topics.
The aim of the initiative is to raise awareness of the importance of mental health among young people and provide practical knowledge to sustain mental well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
“Through U-Report polls and online consultations held since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve come to see that young people’s mental health is at stake,” said Yukari Tsunokake, UNICEF Indonesia Youth Engagement Officer. “Beginning in April, we initiated the #COVID19Diaries campaign and later, a series of workshops to empower young people to address mental health issues. As a next step, we wanted to work with them as equal partners so that they can take the lead and ensure that issues are advocated for young people by young people.”
The first session, which was held on Saturday 22 August under the theme “Coping with stress during the COVID-19 pandemic,” featured stories and voices of young people who described their struggles during the pandemic.
“Stress from family issues is making me lazy at home,” said one 15-year-old adolescent boy. “But I have to keep my spirits up because my parents have been very supportive.”
Two adolescent representatives from UNICEF’s anti-bullying programme shared questions sent in by U-Reporters with Dr Christopher Halimkesuma from the Indonesian Young Health Professionals Society, such as: “Is experiencing stress during the COVID-19 pandemic situation normal for teenagers? Where can we share our concerns if our family and friends are not supportive? What are tips for dealing with stress from daily tasks and burdens during the pandemic?”
Dr Christopher responded by suggesting that young people experiencing these feelings should catch up with friends online, find new hobbies and do their best to maintain a healthy lifestyle. He stressed the importance of seeking the support of a mental health expert if they are having thoughts of suicide, self-harm or a desire to escape reality through drug use. He also explained how coping mechanisms are key to recognising and releasing stress.
"There are many coping mechanisms, but there are two things that I think are important: first, humour. Humour is the best medicine. Second, hope. Keep hoping, don't be discouraged."
As of 28 August, the session has been viewed over 1,500 times on the CIMSA YouTube channel. In a follow-up survey, over 95 per cent of participants rated it “very well” or “well” with many positive comments expressing anticipation for upcoming sessions.
The sessions will continue to air every other Saturday until 10 October, which coincides with World Mental Health Day. The next session is scheduled for 5 September and will cover anxieties, fears and concerns around remote learning and school reopenings.
With the pandemic here to stay for the foreseeable future, Indonesia’s 66 million young people must be prepared and empowered to cope with its consequences.
“As young people know best about the issues that matter to them, it’s important that we work with them to support their well-being and give them the opportunity to be agents of change,” said Tsunokake. “With our support, we hope this initiative will reach as many young people as possible so that they can sustain their mental health during this prolonged and challenging time.”