Blog | Module 1: Defining mental ill-health advocacy and personal development
- Saad Uakkas. Moroccan medical doctor, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, public health student and youth empowerment activist. London, United Kingdom.
- Kokulaan Santhakumar. High school graduate and mental health advocate. Sydney, Australia.
Module one of the Orygen Global Youth Mental Health Advocacy Fellowship taught us how to best prepare ourselves to lead our advocacy ambitions effectively. We were fortunate to receive talks from Fatima Azzahra El Azzouzi, Maya Soetoro, Zelda Keller, Vivienne Browne, Kristy Allen, Dr Diana Kopua, Nawira Baig and Professor Eóin Killackey. These keynote speakers provided a plethora of perspectives on the well-documented elements of self-care, leadership and youth advocacy, and privileged wisdom that we hope to share with you in our blog.
A predominant concept discussed by these speakers was self-care, with the fundamental idea being that life can be overwhelming for anyone, especially for advocates themselves. Knowing and practising self-care fosters a space for us to preserve our mental health amidst all the ongoing pressures and negative experiences that occur in daily life. Fatima Azzahra El Azzouzi showed the fellows how to manage daily workload, adopt practices to help prevent burnout, and develop a self-care plan. The idea is that everyone has preferred ways of caring, resting, and being happy. Therefore, we should identify how we can implement self-care in the different parts of our daily routine, both in our personal and professional life.
Self-care is a reminder that our physical and mental health is a priority and should be preserved. Considering such a concept will help us as young advocates to feel positive in journeys, avoiding hardships and preventing burnout. You can also start self-care from today by identifying things to do in your everyday life to protect your physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
On the topic of leadership, the keynote speakers focused on the philosophy of leadership being about service, particularly serving the community. As young advocates, we have committed ourselves to serving our communities. After listening to Maya Soetoro and Zelda Keller from the Institute for Climate and Peace, we are now able to comprehend the importance of utilising leadership in positive peacebuilding.
You may be wondering what those terms mean. Basically it’s the concept that in our journeys, regardless of what we choose to be an advocate for, not everyone along our pathway will always agree with our ideologies. The best way around such a situation is to put personal bias aside and think holistically as advocates – to get the best out of the problem for the community you are representing. As Inky Johnson said: “It’s not just about you!”. We are here to represent broader society and should focus on the greater good – to destigmatise mental ill-health and promote awareness.
What it means to be a youth advocate
Module one also focused on what it means to be a youth advocate. Different speakers shared the principles governing youth mental health facilitators, barriers and the main challenges facing young people.
Fellows learned that young people tend to prefer informal support and self-help choices, and that they face stigma, embarrassment, and poor mental health literacy for themselves and their environment, which causes challenges in recognising their symptoms.
Learning about the positive factors for young people – which include positive past experiences of professional help and encouragement from others – opened us to the wisdom that youth mental health is multidimensional. It is influenced by multiple factors related to young people themselves and their surrounding environment and stakeholders. Ensuring better mental health literacy for young people will help them seek more personalised help, be aware of their symptoms and challenges, and be able to support and orient each other.
We must realise that mental health is a significant concern for young people, and failing to prioritise and care for it could lead to significant negative consequences. It is imperative to empower and educate those around us – and to offer a positive interaction and acceptance of young people and their mental health – in order to increase the uptake of mental health help.