Getting to Know Young Leaders in Mental Health Advocacy
By Cynthia Germanotta
On World Kindness Day, Born This Way Foundation partnered with our friends at United for Global Mental Health to once again convene young leaders from across the globe for a discussion around the state of global mental health.
Throughout the conversation, they vulnerably shared their experiences and inspired us with their unique visions for a kinder, braver world.
The conversation further proved that the best way to create supportive communities for young people is to listen to their stories, amplify their voices, and collaborate with them to create solutions for today’s challenges as we work together to build a better tomorrow.
My daughter Lady Gaga and I co-founded Born This Way Foundation more than a decade ago to support the mental health of young people and work with them to build a kinder and braver world.
I am always moved by their work at the intersection of mental health and kindness, as well as how they express kindness to themselves.
Undoubtedly, my most recent discussion gave me a lens to be inspired by the advocacy and services initiated by young people around the world.
I would love to share some highlights from the session and show my appreciation for those who joined me in conversation:
- Ahmad Nisar (he/him/his) – Afghanistan
- Elena Peruničić (she/her/hers) – Serbia
- Fatima-Zahra Ma-el-ainin (she/her/hers) – Morocco
- Jacqueline Rose St. Laurent Del Castillo (she/her/hers) – Peru
- Jamie-Lee David (she/her/hers) – South Africa
- Jennifer Oroilidis (she/her/hers) – Brussels
- Oluwaferanmi Omitoyin (he/him/his) – Nigeria
- Tusiime Kenneth (he/him/his) – Uganda
- Vinicius Gaby (he/him/his) – Brazil
Each youth leader acknowledged the urgent need for mental health support resources for young people everywhere – especially those navigating the ongoing challenges faced by the pandemic and other ongoing, overlapping crises.
Ahmad said, “Mental health issues are worsened by extenuating circumstances, especially COVID-19 in recent years. The pandemic deprived young people of access to the support they used to have. For example, in Afghanistan, COVID-19 created compound issues in the home, such as outbursts of anger, domestic violence, and other exacerbating issues. Those challenges are extremely hard to tackle and will need efforts from all of us.”
To address these issues, our panelists shared their own experiences and insights. Vinicius from Brazil advocated for the use of media to connect all young people with helplines and urgent care in order to address the suicide crisis.
Jennifer emphasized the importance of checking in with young people to see if the care provided meets their needs because recovery is not linear and looks different for everyone.
Jamie-Lee showed us that stigma for seeking help for mental health still widely exists in South Africa and called for a more open conversation regarding mental health issues worldwide including the need for increased advocacy and more mental health education in primary, secondary, and high schools.
Lastly, Fatima-Zahra energized me with her powerful message that organizations need to work in the spirit of true partnerships with young people, which means that we need to go beyond advisory councils and involve them in the development of mental health programs. In other words, when inviting young people to collaborate, we should make sure they are co-owners of the entire process.
Indeed, building the platform for young people to become designers and owners of resources and support resonates with our mission at Born This Way Foundation, and I cannot wait to see how this group of young leaders in mental health advocacy and services will continue to build their roadmaps and impact lives and organizations.
I invite us all to think about ways we can spread kindness and compassion, every day. We need to have conversations that build connection and understanding, even if we don’t agree with one another.
We must also recognize the connection between kindness and mental health.
Despite the many overlapping challenges that youth are facing, I’m moved by their persistent aspirational spirit and commitment to making this cultural change.
As Ahmad bravely shared, “Change keeps me up at night…” following with a call to action that “all of us possess the capacity to be the change…a kinder, braver, more resilient world is obviously possible when we’re grounded in mental health support.”
To learn more about how young people are driving change, meeting the needs of their communities, and sharing kindness, I invite you to please visit Born This Way Foundation’s storytelling platform, ChannelKindness.org.