World Mental Health Day 2020
Podcast making waves to promote youth mental health in Thailand
It is normal for young people to feel anxious and stressed, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s the fear of the disease, loneliness from social distancing, stress from online learning and anxiety about the economic shock and shrinking job market. Learning how to take care of yourself and others has never been more important.
A UNICEF-led survey released in April found that for more than 7 in 10 children and young people in Thailand, COVID-19 pandemic was affecting their mental health, causing stress, worry and anxiety. What worries them the most is the uncertainty of their family’s financial status, followed by uncertainty about their education and future employment.
Just talking about your feelings can help with feelings of hopelessness. Take it from Peck Palitchoke, Bright Win, MILLI and many other young celebrities who joined The Sound of Happiness campaign by Thailand’s Department of Mental Health (DMH), UNICEF and JOOX Thailand. The celebrities opened up about their mental health struggles and told their stories on a podcast, which aired on JOOX throughout the campaign period starting July 2020. They, too, faced bullying, body shaming and relationship problems and found the strength within them to bounce back.
The podcast series aims to normalize mental health conversations for children and adolescents. Mental wellbeing is central to their health, development and capacity to learn and participate in society. Regular exposure to distressing experiences can have a lifelong impact on a young person’s mental and physical health. As a result, they can be at higher risk of self-harm, alcohol and drug use and risky sexual behaviour. The cost of mental health problems is not only personal but societal and economic – amounting to 4 per cent of the GDP, the OECD reports.
The topics may be serious, but finding ways to smile again can be fun! Find past episodes on JOOX and listen to The Sound of Happiness album, featuring six songs by leading Thai artists. Favourites among young listeners include “Nai Lao (Let’s Talk)” by MILLI, Blacksheep and ATTA and “Kor Kwam (Message)” by O Wanyai, Zom Marie, Dew Better Weather, Toe Mirrr and ALLY with almost 3.5 million views and 4 million views on YouTube, respectively.
Half of all mental health conditions start by the age of 15 but most cases go undetected and untreated, the WHO reports. According to the DMH, 800 young people aged 10-29 committed suicide in Thailand last year. But youth can be remarkably resilient if given the tools for mental wellness. The Sound of Happiness encourages young listeners to connect with a friend, parent or trusted adult about how they are feeling. There is nothing shameful about reaching out to a professional, too – it is a sign of strength.
“Adolescent mental health is often overlooked,” said Thomas Davin, UNICEF Representative for Thailand. “Most adolescents do not have access to information that can guide them to effectively manage their emotions or mental health. We wanted to create an informative and supportive environment and also address negative perceptions around mental health so that young people feel comfortable talking about mental health challenges they face with their friends, family or someone they trust."
All children and adolescents are at risk of developing mental health problems, especially vulnerable youth facing poverty, discrimination and violence. In a special episode of the podcast featuring a group of young people, 15-year-old Prachaya Sirimahaariyapoya, 19-year-old Oo, 20-year-old Kamollug Tongdang and 21-year-old Ammarin Boonsaard break the silence on taboo topics and discuss statelessness, disability, sexual orientation and seeking mental health help.
“Being sad and depressed doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you,” said youth mental health activist Prachaya in Episode 12.
The podcast has helped listeners start difficult conversations with themselves and others.
“For me, family is crucial for helping you get through tough times. So talk to them and don’t keep your problems to yourself,” said listener and mother Nutch Choeyklinted, who won a behind-the-scenes peek of The Sound of Happiness production set. Finding herself unemployed and overwhelmed during the pandemic, she turned to the podcast for positivity and guidance.
The campaign also inspired listeners to share their own stories through The Sound of Happiness essay contest to help those going through something similar.
“‘The Significance of Friends’ podcast episode with artist Peck Palitchoke resonates with me, mainly because I have friends whom I care for similar to that of the friendships which Peck has shared,” wrote listener Prodpran Sukcharoen in her essay. “Recovering from the loss [of my friend in an accident], I found myself in artist Pearwah’s shoes as she talks about the importance of bravery, resilience and patience when it comes to dealing with any issues in life.”
“You are never alone to deal with the immense pain. Be patient – with your body, your heart and your mind. Instead of thinking of what you could have done, take your time and think of what you can do, what you should be doing now,” she shared.
Young people should not feel like they are alone in facing their problems. For World Mental Health Day, UNICEF shows how all of us have a role to play in protecting the mental health of ourselves and others. Parents can build an environment free of stigma and judgement at home. Friends can practise empathy and active listening.
Coping with anxiety and stress in a healthy way will make you, the people you care about and your community stronger. Young people can take the depression screening test from the Department of Mental Health and can also seek professional help from various trusted sources such as: