By Catherine Nabaloga
The Covid-19 pandemic has come along with so many other problems such as death, hunger, unemployment you name it. However, one of the biggest and mostly overlooked problem is the mental health toll all this has had on the young people. According to the Royal Society for Public Health, & Young Health Movement (2017), the prevalence of anxiety and depression has increased by 70% in the past 25 years in young people. Depression in simple terms refers to a constant feeling of sadness and loss of interest in whatever activities you would normally do or life itself while anxiety is one’s natural body response to stress.
Uganda is ranked among the top six countries in Africa in rates of depressive disorders (4.6%; Miller et al., 2020), while 2.9% live with anxiety disorders (WHO, 2017). About 5.1% of females and 3.6% of males are affected. According to Kuntz (2020), COVID-19 is an acute stressor that can induce trauma and destabilize individuals. This is due to many factors springing from the current pandemic such as loss of loved ones, getting infected with Covid-19, trauma, domestic violence, dropping out of school due to lack of funds, poverty, hunger, addictions, teenage pregnancies and so on and so forth.
Young people right now are anxious about their future and some have resorted to drug abuse, committing crimes, indulging in sexual acts at an early age among others. They are trying to fill a certain void within them because some feel lost and others are not sure of the next direction while others do not even know that they are even depressed!
Here are some ways we can adopt to help young people who are depressed and have some anxiety disorders.
Listen To What They Have To Say
Living in a conservative environment can take a toll on young people’s mental health. We have not cultivated healthy relationships with our children that they cannot approach us when faced with certain problems. Children can easily share their issues with people outside of their homes such as neighbors and social media because they feel like the outside world gives them the audience to express themselves freely.
It is therefore very crucial to create a conducive home environment where your young ones can easily run to you and tell you whatever is troubling them and take keen interest in their lives and what goes on around them. It is not enough to let them talk but listen and advise accordingly.
By doing so, they will be able to reveal their innermost fears or secrets without feeling scared or ashamed and you will be able to help them immediately before the situation gets out of hand.
Do Not Judge
Young people are scared of sharing anything troubling them due to the fear of being judged or mocked by others. They instead resort to drugs or alcohol to try and cover up what they feel or what they are going through. The current situation is already too hard for most of them to comprehend, the last thing anyone needs is to be made fun of. This normally happens especially on social media where we have witnessed what is termed as cyber bullying or cyber harassment. This in simple terms is any form of bullying or harassment that is done over electronic devices like cell phones. When a young person approaches you regarding something negative that someone said or commented on for example on their picture they posted online, do not ask them why they posted it. Instead get to their side and give them encouragement and confidence.
By doing so, you are helping them deal with any form of negativity that may arise out of such. Tell them to report that person who is bullying them, they can delete that person from their friend list and the comments and so on. Do not let some of these go unpunished. If you know the bullying person’s parents, reach out to them and ask that they be reprimanded and advised too.
Secondly, what seems small to you might be a big issue that can even cause depression or anxiety to the person going through it. It is therefore advisable to handle everything that someone shares with you with respect and confidentiality. That way they will be able to trust that you have their best interests and they can always reach out to you in case they need someone to talk to.
Encourage Them to Speak Out
We unfortunately have a big gap between parents and their children in Uganda. Young people have not been given the liberty to question and speak out on some issues that they face in their daily lives. Their emotions have been suppressed and brushed off as irrelevant. Most of them have unfortunately fallen prey to people who just want to take advantage of them and mislead them because they have given them a platform to speak out. We have had cases of young girls getting raped and boys being molested by the very people who were supposed to take care of them and provide protection for example relatives, teachers and friends etc.
These people threaten their lives in all possible ways including killing them if they speak out. Unfortunately, when some of them approach their guardians, they have been silenced in the pretext that this would bring disgrace to the family. This causes a lot of trauma to these young people who might end up running away from their homes or worse commit suicide.
By encouraging young people to speak up, you will be able to understand what has been done to them and by who for immediate action which might include reporting the cases to the nearest police, rehabilitation and treatment. Most of these issues can be prevented in the early stages before they can actually happen.
Encourage Social Media Detox or Downtime
Young people are the biggest users of social media platforms which include Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Tik Tok among other networks. However some studies have shown that social media is one of the number cause of mental health problems in young people. For example A meta-analysis of 23 studies showed correlation of problematic Facebook use and psychological distress in adolescent and young adults (Marino, Gini, Vieno, & Spada, 2018). Other systematic reviews have also found a meaningful relationship between social media use and depression (Best, Manktelow, & Taylor, 2014; Hoare, Milton, Foster, & Allender, 2016). This goes to show that parents need to be more mindful of how much time their children are spending on these different platforms. There is so much cyber bullying on these platforms, blackmailing and extortions in form of money.
Creating a social media down out as a family is helpful such that young people can be able to engage in more physical activities like sports, exercises, do house chores, get more creative and also have meaningful conversations with their parents and healthy relationships with others . Parents are also encouraged to monitor activities of their children across these platforms to help protect them from wrong individuals. I found this article helpful for further guidance on social media https://smartsocial.com/social-media-statistics/.
Seek for Professional Help
Whereas all the above can be explored when trying to help and manage depression in young people, sometimes we may not be able to understand the extent of the damage. It is therefore advisable to seek for professional assistance when you have tried the above but do not see any positive changes or results, or if you see any form of relapses in the person such as going back to drug abuse, alcohol, isolation, anxiety among others. In Uganda, among other mental health organizations, we have Butabika National Referral Hospital where you can reach out and get professional help in form of rehabilitation for your loved one. Some of them just need an outsider to open up and talk while others may need both the talk and the medication. This kind of therapy can only be availed by the professional mental health personnel or psychiatrists.
Reach out to them on the following contacts
+256 414-504-376 (General Customer care 8AM-5PM)
+256 778 134 721 (Private 24/7)
+256 414 671 019 (Evening/Night Shift)
Or visit their website on https://www.butabikahospital.go.ug/
The Take Away
Depression among young people is common especially in these times of the pandemic. Most of them have dropped out of school, have been infected with Covid-19, are unemployed, have lost their parents or guardians (breadwinners) among other things. Most of these young people are heavily burdened currently and they could end up getting depressed and get anxiety disorders. They may not even recognize such emotions because society has not come out to educate them on their existence and how they can overcome them early enough. It is therefore crucial for parents to have open relationships with their children and understand their behaviors in order to be able to detect and help them overcome depression and anxiety in the highlighted ways.
By helping our young people overcome depression and anxiety, we will be able to help them have faith and hope that they can overcome anything, are loved, respected and that they have so much to offer to the world!