Mental health and sexual and reproductive health: The surprising link

Mental health education and literacy must be integrated with existing sexual and reproductive health programmes to mitigate the adversity of both these challenges says Rehema Nakato

Young people’s mental health.

The range of mental health challenges that young people face arise from a multitude of factors including but not limited to poverty and unemployment, relationships as well as Sexual and Reproductive health challenges.

Globally, about 20% of adolescents and young people experience Mental Health problems. As a result, they miss out on opportunities and can experience long lasting consequences. Mental health problems interfere with their ability to participate in education, build new relationships and progress in their career. When no appropriate intervention is put in place, these Mental Health problems can continue into adulthood. Ultimately, these manifest through various behavioural patterns including gender based violence and intimate partner violence that may arise due to unresolved violence issues in a young person’s childhood. Additionally, unresolved mental health issues progress to depression and anxiety issues that hinder a young person’s ability to perform their duties and relate well with their peers.

The unequal burden.

The poor and disabled suffer disproportionately from the burden of mental health. In most instances, poverty predisposes a young person to social exclusion and in access to basic health services and life necessities which intensifies the magnitude of mental health issues The stress that arises from the lack of food, shelter, clothing and a possible underlying health condition aggravates the likelihood of succumbing to depression and other mental health issues.

In many communities, young people living with disability are normally marginalized with little or no focus given to their health needs. Young people living with disability face similar sexual and reproductive health challenges as other young people including both sexual and reproductive health issues and mental health issues but due to underlying cultural and societal stereotypes, these young people have no spaces to voice these issues or receive the much needed healthcare.

The link between mental health and sexual and reproductive health rights.

Mental health and Sexual and Reproductive health are two sides of a coin and the role of both need to be addressed in a young person’s life. The magnitude of sexual and reproductive health challenges (an early or unwanted pregnancy), HIV and gender based violence among so many others impact greatly on the overall well being of the young person.

Similarly, the state of mind in which a young person makes an informed choice compromises the success of a particular intervention in sexual and reproductive health. A case in point, many practitioners offer a range of options for young people to practice and sustain safe sexual practices, however every young person perceives these pieces of information differently; some with fear, anticipation or even shame.

Furthermore, a young person suffering from depression due to HIV will possess both a negative physical and mental health negative outcome that may aggravate their overall health and wellbeing. With regard to this, following a positive HIV diagnosis, a young person may develop prolonged stress that may eventually hinder their ability to adhere to their HIV medication effectively hence progressing their clinical stage to further negative outcomes.

Integrated mental health services.

A focus on integration of mental health education and literacy with existing sexual and reproductive health programmes will be a successful prevention approach for mitigating the adversity of both these challenges in the life of a young person. Popularizing and creating awareness about the role of positive mental health in a young person’s life to various relevant stakeholders and actors in the public health sector will champion efforts of having an empowered and productive population. In recognition of the role sexual and reproductive health plays on a young person’s health, policy makers and health service providers could leverage on the already existing health interventions to incorporate mental health awareness and prevention strategies for young people. By doing so, more young people will be cognizant of their physical and mental health and make healthier decisions that can enable them to cope with life stressors as they transition into and beyond adulthood.

Feature image designed by Freepik.com

Rehema Nakato

Rehema Nakato

Rehema is a certified Public Health Professional, Sexual Reproductive health and rights trainer and mental Health advocate. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Public health and obtained a certificate in Sexual and Reproductive health and Rights from Makerere University school Of Public Health and Rutgers from Netherlands. She is passionate about community health and leadership interventions for young people. At Public health ambassadors Uganda, she served as the Menstrual Health Management champion for projects targeting underserved communities and enhancing information on Menstrual health management. Rehema has been instrumental in the development of the 2021-2026 National Youth Manifesto process where she presented on the health thematic area during the Manifesto launch. She has also written research abstracts on mental health and sexual and reproductive health for young people that she presented at the 3rd International Environmental Health Conference and Sexual and Reproductive health conference for African Researchers respectively. She is part of a network of young mental health professionals at Awesome Mind Speaks, an organization that fronts mental health promotion where she has gained expertise in psychotherapy for adolescents and young people. She is currently working with Open Space Centre as the Assistant Programs manager and has been instrumental in the organization’s strategic planning process, fundraising and program Implementation. She is committed to advancing health for young people in all aspects and working to boost young people’s meaningful engagement in social and economic development.

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Mental health and sexual and reproductive health: The surprising link

by Rehema Nakato Reading time: 3 min
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