Hope needed: Skills building key to young people’s mental health

COVID19 has unleashed a mental health crisis amongst young people, to solve it they need better prospects – that means better skills building, says Asif Amer.

I am uncertain about my future. Will I be able to cope with the demands of the job market?”

These are the words of Akash, a college student from Bangladesh back in April 2020. His uncertainty is shared by thousands of young people following the sudden announcement of the Bangladeshi government in late March, that all kinds of educational institutions were to be closed. This extreme measure was put in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus. With their education put on hold and no fixed date for reopening, there is a growing sense of anxiety among Bangladeshi youths.

The pandemic has been troubling for everyone. And I wanted to know how young people were coping. So my team from Alleviation 360, and I conducted hundreds of interviews with young people like Akash. The most common concerns were naturally about contracting or spreading the virus but another concern stood out; fear of stagnation and insecurity. 

The International Labour Organization (ILO) found that at least 70% of young people have been affected due to the closure of educational institutions and 38% are unsure about their potential job opportunities. The recession is expected to build more barriers in the labour market and to prolong the transition from school to work. This is of course worrying but the more urgent concern is the impact this uncertainty and lack of opportunity is having on young people’s mental health. It is predicted that some 67% of all young people are likely to be experiencing anxiety or depression. 

To resolve this situation, urgent interventions are needed. 

Turning to the New Standard

Following our research we have launched a Virtual Youth Leadership program, to create a space and opportunity for young people from marginalised communities to hone their leadership qualities and skills for the future job market, entrepreneurship and social development. So far 30 young people have participated in this skills building program. As well as skills building the participants are given a platform to speak with decision-makers in the development space and are assisted, with knowledge and materials, to launch new groundbreaking initiatives for community development ranging from social startups to small scale development projects.

Angelina Bohm, the change-maker

Angelina Bohm was one such participant. Coming from an ethnic minority tribal group in Bangladesh she has seen society’s disregard of women’s health from an early age and was eager to change the situation. Along with four of her friends, she has attended our leadership program and established an intervention to provide sexual and reproductive health support to women experiencing health crises or displaced by natural disasters. Angelina and her team have organised a virtual discussion session on women menstrual health and a relief program for flood-affected victims. Their intervention has supported over 200 disaster-affected women.

Youth Leadership 

Interventions that focus directly on mental health are essential but I believe that the most sustainable way to turn around the anxiety Bangladeshi youths are experiencing is to give them hope. Through our programme we have helped young people build skills and discover their leadership potential, vaccinating them against their uncertainties in the job market. 

As youth activist Carmen Martinez puts it;

“The more we increase the active participation and partnership with young people, the better we serve them. […] And the more comprehensively we work with them as service partners, the more we increase our public value to the entire community.” 

Asif Amer

Asif Amer

Asif Amer is a changemaker turned entrepreneur from Bangladesh engaged in social development work. From an early age, he has seen the effect of economic disparity and other problems arise due to lack of social justice. This has shaped his belief and motivated him to pursue a career in the development sector and utilise the untapped potential of young people from marginalised communities. To envision his dream, he has cofounded a strategic decision making system; the MASTUL Foundation, which designs impact oriented projects based on the SDG framework. Recently he founded Alleviation 360, a youth organisation which utilises youth participatory based activities to aid community development. His experience made him realise the potential of education in developing the leadership capacity of young people. He is currently pursuing a postgraduate degree in Master of Education and a fellowship with ‘Teach for Bangladesh’.

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Hope needed: Skills building key to young people’s mental health

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