Youth: Open Space #5 : Mental Health, Youth, and COVID-19

Published by AYF Secretariat on

The pandemic has impacted youth's mental health— The sudden shift and changes are very overwhelming. It was quick and fast, and it seems that we do not have time to really process what was going on. The virtual learning has been impacted the mental health, and on top of that is isolation and uncertainty are really taking a toll on young people's mental health.

On the 11th of October (Sunday), ASEAN Youth Forum conducted the Youth: Open Space for youth to discuss mental health of young people in Southeast Asia during the coronavirus pandemic and their situation in Southeast Asia. Over 60 youth in Southeast Asia attended the session. The participating youth are coming from 9 countries, which are Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, The Philippines, Timor Leste,  and Vietnam.

It was an entirely youth-led discussion, co-hosted by Me Me from Myanmar, Fifty from Indonesia, Yanin from Thailand, and Anu from Singapore.

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Here are some highlights from the session

we decided to keep the highlight anonymous to respect everyone involved in the open space.

I think one of the challenges most of us have: the isolation, most of us. We have to admit that most of us it's really used to socializing with each other face to face interaction. And I think that's one of the biggest factors that contributes to affecting the mental health people nowadays.

J, The Philippines

I think  one of the challenges that most everyone faces is the uncertainty. When this pandemic will end. Everyday we're just reading the news about the vaccines and it affects our daily doing.

C, The Philippines

I think  in this world of globalization, we are being compared to everyone on the internet. Like we see, ‘Oh, a 15 year old is a millionaire by selling socks online’, you know, things like that. And when we feel like, ‘Oh, I'm a 21 year old and I have not completed anything, I'm not successful in anything. I don't have a car of my own. I live under my parents' roof. So when you see the outside world, because now we're so connected with the internet, when you see other people doing so well and doing so good, you tend to ask yourself, am I doing enough? And that's where the anxiety hits. And then from there you go way down to the bottom of that road that nobody likes to go to say.

M, Malaysia

I think in my opinion, it's more of the lack of understanding and the lack of education. The lack of not understanding how serious this problem is. I think because back in the olden days or not so old, you can say 10 years ago, mental health was just another “Uh, I have a headache and I want to rest” or “Oh, I feel sad today. it's just another day I'm sad.” So people did not really realize what mental health is because everyone was focusing so much on the physical health of am I sick or not sick, am I having cancer and stuff like that.

M, Malaysia

And I think just to add onto a bit more on what you said about lack of education, lack of knowledge, lack of cultural awareness. I think maybe another problem is that there's a lack of resources. At least in my opinion, I feel that proper mental health like getting it from a professional is quite expensive.  Insurance doesn't cover it. Because I know my friend seeks professional mental health support in Singapore. It costs upwards of $90 to 100 for 10 minutes at a psychiatrist psychologist. So it's then, I think people have to make that choice like should I spend this money on getting mental health or should I “It'll be fine”. But we know that it will not be fine because it's a legitimate issue and it needs to be addressed.

A, Singapore

For me personally, I think that being a conservative country where education on mental health has not been really addressed. I think that really impacts the way that our healthcare system is. I personally don't see that the mental health system is prioritized here. In my country, if you want to seek mental health related support, it's mostly medication. There's no therapy, there's no really any counseling, not really in the other emotional therapy. It's mainly medicinal. So I think that is one of the problems in our healthcare system, particularly in conservative countries

M, Myanmar

I remember we already have a bill in support of mental health awareness and programs for individuals who need it. But one thing that really bothers me is that the government doesn't, you know, we can't feel that full support because we can't necessarily seem to find the facilities. The facilities needed to, you know, absorb the immense amount of people who need, I don't know, uh, psychosocial support or anything that's been taking care of their mental health.

One of the positive things I see right now, the thing that there are a lot of organizations, whether it be organizations or NGO that acts as support groups, especially during this time of the pandemic where everyone is really anxious of what's going on, hoping that the situation would get better, not only in our country in the world. So yeah, I hope that this trend will continue.

J, The Philippines

I think it's really hard to open up to your friends sometimes, especially when they do have their own struggles at home. So, what I did is I love to write in my journal. I write in my journal what I feel that day. I feel sad writing everything down and I listen to music sometimes especially on Spotify. I looked for a playlist that I was able to relate with. Or sometimes I listen to some motivational video or like just some chilling vibes. And also you can also do things that you really love. Like for me, I like reading more. That's how I can cope from this stress I'm experiencing.

C, The Philippines

what my friends and I personally usually do during this time will go on an online free counseling platform where you can chat with mental health professionals and also people that are going through the same struggles, and you can be a support system for each other, you can basically keep your anonymity. So you don't have to tell them who you are. You don't have to share any personal information. You can just talk to them and share the space with each other as pillars of support. But of course, keep in mind to take care of yourself. Don't give any personal information, and if you feel unsafe, please choose another different safer platform.

M, Myanmar

Recently I've had a struggle in balancing my education as well as my work, because I am doing volunteer work at a red cross here in our local place. I'm having assistance given to the molecular lab, which is the best facility and the sewing testing facility for garbage tests. And then, I tried to balance my education as well as doing voluntary work. I could do what I want and be productive as well. And then suddenly, I just do not get into my education. I stressed out for three days. I isolate myself and not really talk to, or be so socialized to my work mates. Then I suddenly realize that, it's just the acceptance. You need to realize things that it's okay to not be okay. That's why I decided to stop my college for a while. 

but the pressure in social media, you're being exposed in your house and you are being exposed as well to the social media that everyone is having their class, having their achievement, even though we are in quarantine, in our home doing nothing, we feel unproductive at all from that. I think that it is what you need so that everyone should have time for this stuff. what you need then continue whenever you are good enough to do things again. That's all.

D, The Philippines

I completely agree about wanting to be productive during this time. And I think it is also kind of a vicious cycle where you have this free time. But is it really free just because you're home and the boundaries between work and relaxation have been blurred a little, doesn't really mean you have more time? I personally don't think so. Right? Like we still have the same 24 hours a day and whether we are home or whether we are physically at school or physically at work. And I know that's easier said than done because even personally I'm working, I'm at school, I'm doing my other side activities and things like that. And I feel the need to overcompensate, right? Like, “Oh, I can't just be sitting around. There's probably somewhere, someone somewhere out there doing something very productive during this time.” But I feel it really helps to ground me right now is to ask myself, what do I mean by being productive? Who am I being productive for? What exactly is that being productive?

Because if I'm just trying to feel my empty time and, you know, have something to talk about when everybody else on social media is saying something, I don't really think that's very helpful for anyone. It doesn't add any value to me. It doesn't add any value for anyone else. So I think it's really important to ask what is productive, productivity? You know, what exactly are you being productive towards sometimes? Maybe, take the time and be productive for your mental health, do something that's good for your wellbeing. I think that's also productive. So just because you're not working, it doesn't mean you're wasting your time. So yeah, I think it's important to mark those boundaries.

A, Singapore

I completely agree about wanting to be productive during this time. And I think it is also kind of a vicious cycle where you have this free time. But is it really free just because you're home and the boundaries between work and relaxation have been blurred a little, doesn't really mean you have more time? I personally don't think so. Right? Like we still have the same 24 hours a day and whether we are home or whether we are physically at school or physically at work. And I know that's easier said than done because even personally I'm working, I'm at school, I'm doing my other side activities and things like that. And I feel the need to overcompensate, right? Like, “Oh, I can't just be sitting around. There's probably somewhere, someone somewhere out there doing something very productive during this time.” But I feel it really helps to ground me right now is to ask myself, what do I mean by being productive? Who am I being productive for? What exactly is that being productive?

Because if I'm just trying to feel my empty time and, you know, have something to talk about when everybody else on social media is saying something, I don't really think that's very helpful for anyone. It doesn't add any value to me. It doesn't add any value for anyone else. So I think it's really important to ask what is productive, productivity? You know, what exactly are you being productive towards sometimes? Maybe, take the time and be productive for your mental health, do something that's good for your wellbeing. I think that's also productive. So just because you're not working, it doesn't mean you're wasting your time. So yeah, I think it's important to mark those boundaries.

A, Singapore

I am a university student. I am in Yangoon and I cannot go back home. It is very depressing

N, Myanmar

Mental health issues are not separated from other aspects. Social, economic, cultural, anthropological, religious aspects. The connection, if your religion tells you to come to the congregation but it is pandemic. How do you cope? The possibility of going to a church is fifty-fifty. Asking a religious leader or experts by going out are hindered due to the concern of infected by virus. 

We cannot compare people with mental health issues with other’s mental health issue. We need to realise that their environments are different and experience different thing. No one has a lesser problems than other.

J, The Philippines

I am a 3rd semester university student. Several months ago told us to go home, leave the dorm. It surprised us. We realised something has happening in our country. It made us panic. We must go home. We didn’t know what to do. After we got home in the worrying situation. We are afraid to get infected when we go out and affect our family. At home, especially I am facing another problem: internet connection. Everything has to be virtual. I really feel that this is stressful because all of the assignments, classes and meetings are online. I learn to adapt and find another solution. Share with your family, tell them how you feel. Maybe a simple question, “are you okay?” could be a big thing for your mental health.

M, Indonesia

Government should increase investment in mental health. Measures in taking care of people’s mental health. i.e. hotline call. Mental health issue can be anytime.

B, Singapore

Government need to increase awareness in the local level. Around 7 million loss their jobs. Government should spend their money for this because it is expensive to access experts. We should remove the mind-set that mental health is simply mental health problems. They are connected to religion that think mental health is due to bad spirit entering our body. Youth and children are the majority of population who are affected by mental health issue.

A, The Philippines

The government needs to provide call centre for everyone to access when they have problem. Especially many people go to the call centre and ask for this.

M, Myanmar

In Indonesia seeking help from psychologist is a privilege that everyone can afford. If we cannot solve this, soon mental health is just deemed mental health and no one is going to be aware of it.

L, Indonesia