12 August 2014

THE FEAR OF BEING ALONE | Guest Post for International Youth Day 2014

"More often than not, we get uncomfortable about things and people that are not in tune with that which we have made comfortable in our personal realities and this influences our actions which in turn have (heavy) consequences. We need to step outside our comfort zone to reach for those who need our help."- Editor's note
Image Credit: tapestrysb

While growing up, I had a girl in my class who was smart, intelligent but had a shockingly low self-esteem and was afraid of being alone. She was always begging for two things: love and acceptance. She would write people’s notes for them while they went on break, trying so hard to get accepted in cliques she’d tell fake stories that put her in a sympathetic light. She had emotional issues and anxiety disorder that manifested in her actions no matter how hard she tried to cover. Soon, despite her efforts to fit in, she gave up from the rejection she got and withdrew. Last thing we heard was she’d transferred to another school.

Quickly, two things from her story: Love and Acceptance.

Many times we see people different in ways we are uncomfortable with and we avoid them or worse, shoot them down with our words and reactions. Today on the international calendar of global observances, it’s International Youth day with the theme Youth and Mental Illness and there is a call for us all to set aside discrimination, stigmatisation and exclusion as these are things which hinder youths with mental illness from seeking help. Mental illness is just like any other illness but if there is any illness that has received a lot of stigmatization, it is this particular type. Picture the mad man on the street. Picture your reaction to discovering your friend who is a Nurse wants to specialise in Psychiatry. Imagine having a classmate who is mentally diseased. Now, examine your reaction.

Image Credit: tima-alattar
In my final year in the University, a classmate suddenly took a mental slide. He withdrew from people, he stopped talking, and he kept wearing the same dirty sweater, oversized trouser, and terrible-you-should-throw-away-shoe to class. The reaction of any concerned soul would be to reach out to him and while some did, many avoided him, whispering and shaking heads as he passed by. “He has mental problem,” they said and left it at that. Then he became a thou-shall-not-approach.

You see, discrimination and stigmatisation are age-long practices we really should set aside. It is evident in in every aspect of the human interaction; in religion, career, social structures, even family. Let’s look at stigmatisation, discrimination, and social exclusion in relation to youths with mental illness. Youths crave love and acceptance more than any other age group, and they handle rejection worse than any other. Children naturally expect attention and love, adults bring maturity to play in rejection, but youths go emotion-first-and-emotion-all-the-way.

Research shows us that 1 in 5 youths suffer from mental illness. Let me quickly add that mental illness is not limited to those walking the streets with obvious signs of madness; it is not limited to madness. Anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, depression, Paranoia, these are some, and these are peculiar to youths. But youths with mental illness do not seek the necessary help they require for fear of discrimination, stigmatisation and exclusion from their social groups. They do not want to be labelled “mad” especially when they are not, they do not want to be tagged as “having issues”, they do not want their friends to do the stuffs they do together without them and so they turn to self-medication, or they do nothing at all.

The world is rigged in inter-connectivity and on this day, in honour of the observance, International Youth Day, UNESCO and every other person and platforms are preaching the message that appeals to the world to put an end to discrimination, stigmatisation, and exclusion of youths with mental health challenges so they can get the necessary help they need. We all are connected, the circle is incomplete, the chain is broken, and we are not the same if we let our youths, particularly in their weakest moment walk alone, because we cannot get past the things which make us uncomfortable.

How can you help them step forward to receive necessary help?

Start with spreading awareness about this observance, and the goal, which is to create an atmosphere of love and acceptance, especially for youths with mental illness, a conducive atmosphere where discrimination, stigmatisation and exclusion has no place and none has to fear being alone.

Mary Ajayi is a UN Online Volunteer who blogs on the international observances.

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