During my time as the U.S. Youth Observer to the United Nations, I have had the privilege to attend a multitude of events. At these events, many issues were discussed such as empowering women; ending sexual violence in conflict zone areas; increasing access to education and health; ending poverty; creating public policies that are inclusive to people of all genders, races, religions, and ethnicities; and implementing programs that aid the disabled. However, there was one issue that I never heard discussed until recently, with the announcement of the theme for this year’s International Youth Day for 2014: “Youth and Mental Health.”
This past year, the world has seen a push in spreading the message that managing your mental health is important. Today, 20% of the world’s youth experience a mental health condition. During my time at the 26th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, I learned that the number of youth experiencing mental health conditions is growing dramatically. Today, youth that have mental health conditions will often experience discrimination and stigma, which can leave them feeling isolated.
Furthermore, it is also important to realize that mental health and youth issues intersect with many of the main issues discussed during the 26th session of the Human Rights Council. Human rights violations and mental health are intertwined; living in a country that fails to provide women and girls with basic human rights leads to mental health issues. Furthermore, research shows that countries that experience violent episodes of war and human rights violations see larger portions of their population, especially youth, experiencing mental health conditions.
Throughout the world, youth are coming together to create effective programs and public policies that will positively impact youth experiencing mental health conditions. For example, I have met some youth that volunteer their time on a monthly basis with organizations such as CMHACY: California Mental Health Advocates for Children and Youth. CMHACY is California’s “only statewide voice for children’s mental health in the state of California” and was founded in 1980 to meet the “mental health needs of California’s vulnerable children and youth.” Through this organization, many youth are able to volunteer and help with event planning and even volunteering in hospitals to help strengthen advocacy and health programs for vulnerable youth. Everywhere and in every public policy issue, youth are creating a difference.
Throughout my time as the U.S. Youth Observer, I have learned about the importance of advocating on the behalf of the vulnerable. It is important for each of us to learn about a multitude of issues, and focus on the ones that are not just the most discussed, but the ones often forgotten. This will ensure that no one is left behind.
Learn more about the UN's work on #MentalHealthMatters for International Youth Day here.
Tiffany Taylor, 2013-2014 U.S. Youth Observer at the UN