It's okay to not feel okay
Young people advocate for mental health and psychosocial support on World Mental Health Day and beyond
JAKARTA, Indonesia – "I feel anxious about continuing to learn remotely since I have difficulty understanding the classes,” said an 18-year-old boy from Medan. “I am worried whether I can enter university due to a lack of adequate support from teachers."
"I lost my job because of the pandemic,” said a 22-year-old girl from Central Java. “It is hard to get another job now. It makes me feel like I am useless and a burden to my family, and I am increasingly losing my self-confidence."
Due to the continuing increase in COVID-19 cases, school reopenings are still on hold and economic hardship is widespread across much of Indonesia. While learning has continued remotely, many children and young people have been struggling to adapt due to the digital divide and the lack of preparation of both teachers and students.
According to a U-Report survey conducted from August to September 2020 with over 535 young people (64 per cent female) from around the country, a majority (38 per cent) reported that they fear not being able to keep up with online classes, while about one-third (36 per cent) are anxious about going back to school, mainly due to fear of COVID-19 infection. A survey in September with over 1000 respondents (71 per cent female) showed that over half (55 per cent) are afraid to tell others about their own mental health, and around a quarter (24 per cent) are concerned with stigma associated with taking medication.
Mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) is a priority response area for UNICEF's work in emergency and humanitarian settings – including the current pandemic. Empowering adolescents and youth to be a part of this support is key to generating a meaningful impact on society.
Since August 2020, UNICEF has jointly provided bi-weekly live online sessions called Ruang PEKA in partnership with the Centre for Indonesian Medical Student Association (CIMSA), a student-led organisation. It was successfully completed on 10 October 2020 with a commemoration of World Mental Health Day.
Moderated by UNICEF, the final session provided a virtual stage for two young representatives from CIMSA Indonesia to hold discussions with a specialist from the Indonesian Psychological Association (HIMPSI) and Indra Sugiarto, the founder of Masukkampus and writer of three bestselling motivation books. These covered various topics, such as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young people's lives and mental health, anxiety with continuing online classes, the issue of stigma and insufficient MHPSS services in schools and the ideal environment for maintaining mental health. Although these topics were already covered during the previous four sessions in Q&As, the final session aimed to provide a space for speakers to discuss these issues extensively from different points of view.
"Ruang PEKA is a truly youth-led initiative to respond to this emerging issue among young people," said Yukari Tsunokake, UNICEF Indonesia Youth Engagement Officer. "By partnering with CIMSA, a passionate youth group that aims to empower others and improve health in Indonesia, we were able to reach, support and advocate for the best mental health and psychosocial support for young people.”
In total, Ruang PEKA ran for five sessions and invited 11 adolescents and youth – including six females, one with a disability and one with schizophrenia – from UNICEF programmes and networks. They successfully represented young people's concerns and opinions on mental health, together with six NGO partners, two adolescent influencers, one popular motivational speaker and two relevant ministries who joined the live discussions and Q&A.
"I wish more young people can seek support comfortably, rather than being buried in fear or worrying about being discriminated against by others," said Audrey, an adolescent representative from Depok who joined the fourth session. "Hopefully, this initiative helps to reduce the stigma of mental health and reminds others that mental illness is normal, especially during the pandemic."
Key to the success of this initiative was the strategic collaboration with multiple partners and stakeholders. This enabled the initiative to cover a range of topics on mental health and reach a wider audience, with over 6000 views to date. Close to 3000 young people raised their voices through the U-Report polls, and some were amplified through several informative materials posted on UNICEF, U-Report and CIMSA social media channels.
"While reading the stories collected via U-Report, I often found myself overwhelmed,” said Yasmeen, CIMSA Liaison Officer to United Nations Agencies. “Young people even younger than me are experiencing challenging times, especially now. I feel relieved that we're able to provide them with a safe space to raise their voices and to receive the help they need through Ruang PEKA."
"Being a part of Ruang PEKA allows young people to acknowledge that it is okay to not feel okay and encourages them to stay connected with others," said Helen Natalia, CIMSA Indonesia Vice President for External Affairs. "It is a spirit of togetherness that supports and strengthens us during this tough time. Let's kindly share and send energy to others. And of course, as we advocated throughout the sessions, it is important that you reach out to specialists when needed."
While the pandemic is affecting young people's lives in many different ways, mental health must be taken care of as well as physical health.
"I believe that Ruang PEKA has empowered young people in Indonesia to not only care about their mental health but also to take concrete action that benefits themselves and others and to even be a part of the COVID-19 response," said Tsunokake. "Through our collective action, we hope that talking about mental health is normalised so that we can rebuild a better future in which every child and young person’s physical and mental wellbeing are ensured."
UNICEF will continue to support MHPSS for children, young people, family and communities, including through the COVID-19 Diaries campaign which provides young people with a platform to engage in meaningful activities and collectively cope with the pandemic.