Including young people will drive global action: 'You need to change what you do to get our votes'

For the past 11 months, I’ve been part of an amazing team of energetic young health leaders from around the world, leading an important conversation on mental health for young people. Our campaign #mymindourhumanity will turn one-year-old soon and as I reflect on what we have achieved, the most notable elements for me was the willingness of the supporting institutions and organizations to [1] engage youth, placing us in the forefront to participate and lead this critical campaign on a global stage [2] invest in youth with their time and money, nurturing platforms for our team to authentically express ourselves and [3] educate youth, encouraging us to submerge ourselves in our leadership roles, learn about each other's cultural insights and discovering new ways of adding value to our communities.

The global campaign disseminated the findings of The Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health and Sustainable Development to young people worldwide and compiled 3 core goals:

* To reduce stigma and promote a view of mental health as a fundamental part of being human.

* To integrate young people’s voices, values, and experiences into public debate in global mental health.

* To educate young people and inspire them to take action to promote well being in their communities.

A major part of the vision for the campaign is to create tangible outcomes that young people can benefit from, that would provide a vehicle for them to create real action. These three elements mentioned above, ironically (or maybe not so ironic), encompasses some of the key recommendations outlined by the recent Policy Brief that we initiated, created, and disseminated titled ‘Young people will transform Global Mental Health: A call to prioritize global action on mental health for young people’. 

Young people under 25 make up 42% of the world's population and mental ill-health is currently the leading cause of disability in young people aged 10 to 24. Yet, young people are least likely to access mental health services due to under detection, lack of awareness and help-seeking, and insufficient priority in policy frameworks. The policy brief created speaks to ways of bridging the mental health support gap, and assist young people to gain access to mental health services at the policy level. The key recommendations we created are: 

1. To ensure full and direct participation of young people as well as people with lived experience to ensure a rights-based approach is enshrined in the foundation of mental health policies.
2. To increase financial investment in early intervention and prevention programmes geared toward the mental health of young people.
3. To strengthen mental health education in schools and universities, to promote mental health literacy, address stigma and improve help-seeking. 

On the 23rd of May 2019, the policy brief was published in collaboration with the Mental Health Innovation Network, to prioritize global action on mental health for young people. I was given the opportunity to represent our young leaders team in Geneva, presenting the brief at the NCD Child Side Event “The Convention on the Rights of the Child & SDG 3” organized by NCD Child, the American Academy of Pediatrics, International Pediatric Association and NCD Alliance, as part of the World Health Assembly (WHA72) 2019. The event saw presentations by some phenomenal young leaders sharing their experiences - Joab Wako gave an emotive account of his struggles with kidney disease as a kidney transplant patient advocate in Kenya while Margianta Suranhman Juhanda Dinata impressed the lethal contributions of pollution and tobacco use as major risk factors to Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in Indonesia. 

We were later joined by Dr Stefan Peterson, Chief of Health at UNICEF, who facilitated a session with the presenters. He encouraged a critical examination of youth engagement at high-level health platforms and asked us what solutions we, as young people, have for ensuring high-level officials listen to us. I had an opportunity to respond "Globally there is a major decline in young voters and youth engagement with political leaders. This is very concerning as there is a breakdown in trust but it also means that young people need something different. No constituency can afford to lose 42% of their voter poll so something needs to change. Dr Peterson - you have a good face, but young people want to see people in high-level platforms that look, sounds and engage as they do. So it is imperative for international inter-governmental organizations, governments, and stakeholders to have young people at the table. Create a "youth government" in countries or "youth councils" in health organizations that focus on youth issues, that get paid and have a real voice that impacts legislation, policy, and practices. You need to change what you do to get our votes."

The recommendations in the policy brief are designed to empower young people to start conversations with their respective governments. It does not dictate the exact needs of every young person, every community or every country but it can be used as a guideline to develop workable, functional and implementable policies in respective regions.

The campaign that is coordinated by the BeGOOD Team at the University of Oxford and NCD Child, and funded by the Wellcome Trust, truly is a space created by some great leadership insight. The fruits of this campaign will last much longer and will be rooted much deeper than the initial project timeline or the immediate social media exterior that everyone else sees.

If we can achieve all this in one year, what more can we do if we include, enable, support and fund all young people so they can take care of our collective futures?

Chantelle Booysen
Please follow @mymindourhumanity on Instagram and Facebook