International Youth Day is an awareness day designated by the United Nations, to bring youth issues to the attention of the international community.
On August 12, people all around the world will celebrate the potential of youth as partners in today’s global society. First designated by the UN General Assembly in 1999, it is an annual celebration of the role of young women and men as essential partners in change, as well as an opportunity to raise awareness of the challenges and hardships facing the world’s youth.
This year, the theme is “Youth and Mental Health” under the slogan ‘Mental Health Matters.’ Discussions and information campaigns will take place on August 12 across the world, to encourage the public to understand the needs of young people, to implement policies to help them overcome the challenges they face, and to help young people into the decision-making process.
According to UNICEF, 20 percent of the 1.2 billion youth aged 15-24 years old in the world experience a mental health condition. These youth can often experience stigma and discrimination, which in turn can lead to exclusion and/or discourage people from seeking help for fear of being negatively ‘labelled.’ Efforts are needed to overcome this stigma to ensure that young people with mental health conditions can lead full and healthy lives free of isolation and unnecessary shame, and that they openly seek the services and support they need.
Across the world, United Ways are addressing and making real improvements to mental health systems and supports for young people. In particular, United Ways throughout Europe are in the early phases of mapping out a collective strategy to bolster youth success with a focus on educational achievement and career readiness. Part of this strategy includes ensuring young people have the services and supports to make this a reality—including programs and activities that promote social inclusion and the development of educational and social skills necessary to lead full and independent lives. For example:
- United Way Romania provides homeless youth access to counseling and vocational training to assist with getting them back on their feet and towards earning a steady income.
- United Way Poland, in partnership with the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and other organizations, offers creative workshops and art therapy to youth with developmental disabilities and mental illness. These sessions culminate in exhibition opportunities for participants and allow young people to explore and cultivate artistic talent they may not have even known they had before.
- United Way of Russia invests in after-school counseling, tutoring, and enrichment activities for orphans and other youth at risk to better prepare them for scholastic success. Youth participating in these programs have shown remarkable progress, exhibiting up to a 40% increase in their academic marks.
- United Way Israel has several partnerships to provide educational, economic, and social support to many groups living in Israel’s periphery. Recent figures indicate that as many as 75% of children aged 4-18 living in the Negev region are displaying signs of Post Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of the 14 years of ongoing conflict in the region. This includes many Bedouin living in unrecognized villages lacking basic necessities such as sanitation and electricity. As recently as last month and through the cooperation of a variety of organizations and sectors, volunteer professionals have been dispatched to the region to treat the trauma and post trauma cases.
- United Way Tocqueville France serves some of the most vulnerable populations in Paris through a partnership with six nonprofit organizations to provide youth the skills, confidence, and supports necessary to select a successful course of study. Through this partnership, youth use creative exploration in the dramatic arts, as well as other areas of study, to develop confidence, self-expression, and deeper relationship with peers in the program and, ultimately, in the community.
This International Youth Day we ask you to join the discussion about addressing the challenges faced by young people with mental health issues. Use hashtag #MentalHealthMatters.