Young People on Breaking the Stigma Around Mental Health

One in six young people globally faces mental health challenges, according to the World Health Organization. And the stigma around mental health limits opportunities for necessary support and treatment. That’s why young people are breaking the stigma around mental health through advocacy, activism and storytelling.

Through the Rising Minds podcast, young people shape conversations on the issues that impact their lives and wellbeing. In a series of deep dive blog posts, we summarise key messages from the speakers of the podcasts. This post reviews what young people have to say about breaking the stigma around mental health.

“I always love such discussions, to be very honest. I think it’s so important to just break the stigma around [mental health] from AI to tokenistic practices to misconceptions about mental health. It’s so important to just talk about these.”

– Manvi Tiwari, Mental Health Activist and Lived Experience Expert, India

Lead with Empathy

The young people in the Rising Minds podcast, keep returning to the importance of leading with emppathy. Their advice collectively emphasize the importance of genuine empathy, understanding, and practical support for individuals navigating mental health challenges. They encourage a more authentic and compassionate approach to mental health conversations.

In their conversation with Girls’ Globe’s Felogene Anumo, Marylize Biubwa emphasizes the importance of acknowledging and holding space for vulnerability. It involves recognizing one’s struggles and being open about them without fear of judgment.

Marylize Biubwa is an intersectional feminist and activist dedicated to social justice and fighting gender inequality. They caution against offering false hope. Instead of saying, “Don’t worry, you’ll be okay,” they suggest acknowledging the person’s struggle and offering support in a more genuine and practical manner.

The speakers encourage active listening and understanding. Sometimes, the most valuable support can come from simply being present, listening without judgment, and asking the person what they need.

“Sometimes merely giving an empathic listening ear to someone experiencing suicidal thoughts can save their lives.”

– Emmanuel Nii-Boye Quarshie, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Psychology at the University of Ghana

Marylize also challenges the discomfort associated with silence. Sometimes, offering silence rather than immediate solutions or apologies can be a powerful and supportive response.

All mental health struggles are personal, and each person’s journey is unique. Acceptance and understanding of one’s own mental health condition, without comparison to others, can be empowering.

Engaging with others who have gone through similar experiences can be comforting. Sharing one’s vulnerability and connecting with others in similar situations can foster a sense of community and understanding.

The Power of Storytelling for Change

The power of storytelling returns to the conversations in the Rising Minds conversations on mental health. Not only is storytelling powerful as a means of normalizing and destigmatizing mental health issues, it is also a way to humanize the struggle and encourage understanding.

Gary Layn in the Rising Minds radio station at Women Deliver 2023. Photo credit: Fondation Botnar

“Having more of these conversations and then seeing those compositions go into the world in some way, that helps in normalizing them.”

– Gary Layn, writer and Senior Communications Manager, Y-Labs

Gary emphasizes the profound impact of storytelling in dismantling the stigma surrounding mental health. He believes that stories have a unique ability to recreate real-life moments, allowing individuals to emotionally connect with characters and address complex issues in a way that other forms of communication cannot achieve.

Through his storytelling approach, Gary not only challenges hidden myths and perceptions but also intentionally aims to create narratives with a meaningful impact. He advocates for the normalization of conversations about mental health by bringing these compositions into the world, making them relatable and engaging. Furthermore, Gary highlights the collaborative aspect of his work, incorporating input from various partners and experts to ensure realistic and impactful representations of mental health issues in his stories.

While Marylize doesn’t consider herself a mental health advocate, her life experiences have inadvertently become a form of advocacy. Sharing personal struggles and experiences helps reduce stigma and contributes to a more empathetic understanding of mental health.

Manvi Tiwari emphasizes that social media has played a significant role in reducing the stigma around mental health. She personally used social media to share her story and fight the stigma surrounding her struggles.

Having an Intersectional Approach to Mental Health

Mental health advocates from India, Manvi and Muskan Lamba, argue that personal mental health is community mental health. They stress the importance of services that cater to the unique needs and cultures of diverse communities.

Manvi Tiwari

“At the end of the day, personal mental health is community mental health, and services that support the unique needs and cultures of diverse communities would be such a beautiful and value-creating addition to our world.”

– Manvi Tiwari, Mental Health Activist and Lived Experience Expert, India

The speakers acknowledge the importance of intersectionality in mental health. They discuss how various factors like finances, relationships, education, gender, and religion are interconnected with mental health. Recognizing and addressing these intersections is crucial in breaking the stigma.

Mental Health Needs a Gendered Approach

And as a part of an intersectional approach, gender is a huge factor in addressing mental health issues worldwide. The speakers in the Interlinks takeover of the Rising Minds podcast share the grim reality that:

60% of men who die from suicide have never sought mental health support.

Women attempt suicide more often, but they tend to choose less violent methods.

Men are three times more likely to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder compared to women.

They highlight the importance of breaking the stigma surrounding men’s mental health. They identify challenges and discuss potential strategies to overcome them.

Societal Expectations

Society expects men to be strong, independent, and emotionally reserved. This expectation makes it difficult for men to express vulnerability or seek help, as it is often perceived as a sign of weakness.

Toxic Masculinity

The concept of toxic masculinity imposes unrealistic and harmful expectations on men, encouraging them to be aggressive, dominant, and fearless. This can lead to severe psychological consequences and discourage men from seeking support.

Gender Stereotypes

Deeply ingrained gender stereotypes limit the range of emotions that men feel comfortable expressing. Men may feel pressured to conform to these stereotypes, suppressing certain emotions and exacerbating internal struggles.

Underreporting and Silent Suffering

Men may be less likely to seek help for emotional distress, leading to underreporting of mental health issues. The pressure to be self-reliant and the stigma associated with vulnerability can result in silent suffering.

Interlinks is a Tunisian based organization working to improve the living conditions of disadvantaged and vulnerable populations. The speakers also share strategies to break the stigma around mental health.

Conducting group education sessions and youth-led campaigns can challenge gender stereotypes and foster balanced relationships. Psychoeducational videos on gender norms can raise awareness and encourage reflection.

Develop tailored mental health programs specifically for men, focusing on areas like emotional communication, stress management, seeking help, and building relationships.

Provide safe and confidential spaces where men can share their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment. Support groups and clubs that prioritize well-being can offer social support and a sense of connection.

Advocate for public policies that consider the gender dimension in mental health. Implement an integrated approach, including changing perceptions of mental health services, raising awareness about inappropriate coping strategies, and addressing gender disparity in health-seeking services. Comprehensive assessment of the situation, considering variables such as gender, age, and sociocultural status, can lead to inclusive policies that improve mental health care for men and reduce stigma.

Seek Professional Help

Speakers continually highlight the importance of seeking professional help, including therapy and medication if necessary. For your own care, and as a way of breaking your own stigma around mental health.

“The lighter you are, the easier it is for you to fly, to go to another place, to pursue the next thing that you possibly couldn’t if you still carry this burden with yourself.”

– Marylize Biubwa, intersectional feminist and social justice activist

Let Young People Lead

The speakers on the Rising Minds podcast highlight the power of the younger generation in challenging and changing the narrative around mental health. They advocate for a more holistic and inclusive approach, recognizing that mental health conditions are not limited to specific demographics or generations.

Manvi and Muskan discuss the issue of tokenism in mental health projects. Manvi shares her frustration with being asked to be involved in projects in a tokenistic manner. They stress the importance of genuine inclusion and the negative impact of tokenism on breaking the stigma.

The speakers express pride in the ability of Gen Z to address mental health issues openly and hold people accountable. This empowerment is considered crucial in challenging stigma and promoting a more open and understanding society.

Decriminalise Mental Health Issues

Emmanuel Nii-Boye Quarshie

Emmanuel Nii-Boye Quarshie is a Senior Lecturer of Psychology at the University of Ghana in Accra. He emphasizes the stigma surrounding mental health in Ghana, where suicidal behaviors are stigmatized, tabooed, and even criminalized.

On the podcast, Emmanuel discusses the challenges faced due to the lack of systematic data on self-harm and suicide in the country. Emmanuel’s dedication to mental health advocacy is driven by the belief that there can be no health without mental health and that suicide prevention is everyone’s business. He encourages a change in attitudes towards suicidal individuals and the laws criminalizing suicide. He highlights the need for attitudinal change among various stakeholder groups, including the police, teachers, religious leaders, and the general public.

Young people are breaking the stigma around mental health through their activism, advocacy and storytelling. Keep listening to them to further understand how to be a part of strengthening mental health.

In loving memory

Manvi was one of the brilliant and passionate contributors to Rising Minds, as well as several projects supported by Fondation Botnar, including the Being initiative and a powerful contribution to the World Health Summit in Berlin in 2022, making her one of the youngest speakers at the annual meeting. Beyond her dedication to bringing youth and lived experience into critical discussions for awareness and action on mental health issues around the world, her infectious warmth and kindness to those around her will be long remembered and cherished. Thank you, Manvi – rest in peace from Fondation Botnar.

First launched as a pop-up radio show at the Women Deliver 2023 conference by Fondation Botnar, all Rising Minds episodes are now published as a resource available for all to access. Find out more here. And follow the series with Girls Globe that takes a closer look at the issues and perspectives raised by young people around the world. Subscribe here.

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