3 Weeks, 3 Countries, 8 Adolescents
Pen Pal Initiative
This summer, UNICEF and NYT Kids China invited adolescents from China, Romania and India to participate in a Pen Pal Initiative.
These kids, between 14 to 18 years old, share diverse cultural perspectives but also a common passion for mental health. Over the course of three weeks, they exchanged their inspiring ideas.
01 On Promoting Mental Health
Parents and schools could help in popularizing the importance of mental health and steps we can take to improve it. I think parents should take the responsibility to take care of their children’s mental health. I also believe that school, as an influential part of teenagers’ daily lives, could lead efforts to popularize mental health awareness. Teachers and classmates have a significant effect on a child’s mental state in either a positive or a negative way.
I believe one thing that can be done by schools is having a counseling office and hiring professional counselors. Whenever a student feels stress or mental discomfort, they could go to the office and ask for advice from the counselor.
I believe that being supportive of people speaking out, being patient and being good listeners are great steps towards promoting mental health support. Notably with the virtual shift that everyone has adopted, encouraging ways for others to filter their content for more uplifting, encouraging and compassionate media is extremely important as well.
Besides the available resources, I’d like it if there was more inclusivity and if people with mental health issues were given equal opportunities. As a youngster with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), I’ll soon be applying for jobs and positions. I know I’m equally capable as anyone else with or without a health issue like mine.
I believe that unified action is crucial and conducive to improvements in the mental health of friends and peers in my life. When we learn about mental health individually, we keep what we learn to ourselves, as well as the benefits. However, if we try to improve people’s well-being through collective effort, everybody’s individual effort can result in benefits that go beyond individual benefits.
02 On Peer Support
When I or my friends face problems or difficulties, we would get together for a meal and talk it out. It is quite effective. I believe schools should guide students to correctly evaluate themselves and accept themselves. To achieve this, they can carry out psychological counseling activities.
As teenagers, we can write some articles or organize some activities to try to raise people’s awareness of mental well-being. We can also organize more programs to provide support to our peers who need help, because teenagers can support their peers from a different perspective from adults.
If we create posts that include information about mental health, care instructions and positive messages at a certain time interval (once a week or so) using the communication channels of influential organizations such as UNICEF and posting them on the platforms most frequented by young people, then our message would reach a larger number of people and would be read by people who need support. Mental health is worthy of powerful, positive conversations.
Next time when a kid says he/she had a hard day at school, let’s tell them that it’s OK, and that it’s time to take care of your mental health. Go out, play games, read a book…. Take care of your mental health. Let it be a self-care day today. This is one powerful way to integrate mental health with our daily lives and encourage the conversation around it.
03 On Talking About Mental Health
Start conversations. Sometimes we are reluctant to talk about mental health because we are afraid what we might say isn’t what others want to hear. However, once the first step is taken, we will feel the support from people around us, and this will have a rippling effect.
Widening our vocabulary to truly understand our mind is maybe the first step. There are myriad words that can express our feelings, apart from just “sad”, “happy”, “angry” or “neutral.” This lets us stay away from self-stigma first.
Our friends, families, teachers and peers look towards their circle for validation. As active members of society, it is our duty to take a stand to support those who may feel suppressed or shunned. Choosing empowerment over shame can help us achieve our goal towards a better society.
Mental health are not something to feel ashamed of or fear. [Young people] can bravely ask for help from their close friends, teachers, parents. Everyone can have issues, and what we need to do is just treat people who are having them as we normally would treat any illness.
When speaking about a mental health disorder, separate the person from their diagnosis. For example, we don’t call people bipolar. Instead, we say a person has bipolar disorder, this simple shift demonstrates that a person is so much more than a diagnosis. We should choose the words we use correctly and carefully and use them in a friendly way.... Share positive messages when talking to others.
In China and around the world, UNICEF is working with health services, the education sector, families and adolescents to get young people the mental health and well-being support they need. Please know that: it is OK to be not OK - everyone faces challenging times when it comes to mental health and well-being. There is a lot you can do to help yourself and your friends maintain your mental health: reducing stigma around the issue, particularly for those who are seeking help; sharing how you are really feeling with people you trust; forming peer support groups and networks. When in need, reaching out to resources and services available. In China for example, "12355" is a toll-free hotline which provides professional mental health support to adolescents.