October 10th 2020 is World Mental Health Day. This year’s theme is “Mental Health for All” with a campaign emphasis on increased investment in global mental health. Approximately, 1 billion people globally have mental illness and in need of mental health services.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions on the well-being of individuals and communities has been significant. Frontline health care workers are fearful and stressed about contracting and spreading the virus to their friends and families. Indeed, reports suggest that approximately 47% of health care workers in Canada have requested psychological support. Others are distressed over financial insecurity from job losses and grieving for family members and friends they lost in the pandemic. Women are psychologically frayed from working from home, juggling household chores while monitoring children, bored, restless and irritable from lockdown conditions. Youth are isolated from friends and lack the pleasure of essential relationships, sports and social activities. All of these, compounded with uncertainty and concerns about their future, have been harmful to youth mental well-being.
Certainly, there is a disruption in normal functioning; no wonder depression and anxiety have emerged as the most common complaints afflicting population mental health. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that productivity loss from disabling illnesses such as depression and anxiety is estimated to account for1 trillion USD in the global economy.
Reports relating to youth, suggest that depression, anxiety and suicide are leading mental disorders. Other known risks to youth mental health are, increased use of substances, especially under pandemic restrictions, and conditions that marginalize youth, such as unemployment, poor housing or living conditions, family dysfunction, poor education, and loneliness. Statistics Canada reports increased alcohol consumption in 20% of 15-49 year olds during the pandemic.
It is worth noting that the World Health Organization (WHO) has prioritized youth health as an important aspect of their SDGs2030 initiative. Youth are considered key to a sustainable future, yet in spite of 2020 campaign to invest in mental health services for all, funding for access to mental health care services is deficient. Consequently, access to mental health services for youth becomes problematic.
Investment in youth mental health can be achieved by scaling up community health literacy, in which factors that affect youth mental health are defined, recognized, and understood. Youth and their families are informed, empowered to make appropriate health care decisions on treatments and helped to navigate the health care system and community health resources.
Investing in community health literacy will increase youth resilience and promote a higher level of youth mental health.