Every year, mental health-issues cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion (WHO, 2023). Latest Research released at the International Conference on Mental Health brings out key interventions addressing mental health issues of children, adolescents, and young people.
New Delhi, 09 May 2023: In order to address the increasing number of mental health issues among children, adolescents and young people, Butterflies, a non-governmental organization in Delhi organised an International Conference on Mental Health from 9-11 May 2023 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. The three-day conference brought together mental health professionals, practitioners, academicians, and media personnel for an interdisciplinary discourse to gain an in-depth understanding of the mental health of children and adolescents and the way forward. The conference was addressed by eminent speakers, domain experts, and practitioners from India, UK, Rwanda, Philippines, Guyana, Cambodia, and Nepal.
The conference began by Dr Nimesh Desai (Former Director of IHBAS) setting the context by putting children and adolescents at the centre and highlighting that childhood needs to be secured which will help in mental health of children. He stressed upon localizing solutions and developing relevant models. This was followed by an address by Dr. Ziaul Matin, Health Specialist, UNICEF India. Dr Matin provided an overview of legislative framework of India pertaining to Mental Health.
The first day of the conference was inaugurated by Smt. Roli Singh, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India who in her keynote address said, “My constant focus has been on convergence, not only between the ministries and departments who are looking at adolescents, but also within the ministry.” She also focused on the need of policies regarding the sexual violence against boys and highlighted, “An integrated adolescent in the society, especially boys, will lead to a happier social setup.”
The inauguration also witnessed the releasing of the Action Research on Social Case Work with Children, Adolescents & Young People in India, Rwanda & Guyana. Speaking on the importance of emotional wellbeing, Ms. Rita Panicker, Director, Butterflies said, “Mental health is no longer just as an absence of mental illness but also one’s mental wellbeing. Keeping this in mind, BUTTERFLIES (India) along with UYISENGA NI IMANZI (Rwanda) and CHILDLINK (Guyana) conducted this action research on specific therapeutic approaches on mental health-wellbeing of children and adolescents, in crisis.” (Click Here to Download the Study Reports)
Taking a cue from the need for more discussions among stakeholders, the first day of the conference witnessed panelists discuss the concept of mental health from the lens of holistic health and wellbeing wherein mental health-wellbeing is seen as essential for living a healthier life despite failures, coping with the regular life stresses, working productively and satisfactorily, with balanced interpersonal relationships with peers, family and community. The panel discussions also deliberated on some of the therapeutic approaches practiced in India and elsewhere, which have been able to promote mental health-wellbeing in the lives of children, adolescents, and their families. The therapeutic approaches discussed were Social Casework, Narrative Art therapy, Psycho-social therapy, Sports, Play & Art therapy. The panelists also focused on Mindfulness, Non-Violent Communication and Sports for change for mental wellbeing.
10 May 2023: The second day of the conference began by the Chair Dr. Sanjai Bhatt setting the context. He talked about the effect of cyber space on children and the measures of the State to combat them. He also stressed on family values and said, “There is tectonic shift in societal values. Our established institutions are somewhere becoming defunct and especially the biggest institution which is bearing the brunt of this entire change in past 20 years is Family. Therefore, we need revival of family values in this country. So probably we need a large programme at National level such as National Family Health programme/empowerment programme.
The second day of the conference witnessed the inaugural address by the Chief Guest- Dr. Rakesh Kumar, Honorable Chairman, Uttarakhand Public Service Commission, followed by a Release of Synthesis Report on Boys Affected by Sexual Violence. Dr Kumar mentioned past data of India on health indicators and said, “Adolescents are a demographic dividend and if not catered, it will be demographic disaster”. He focused on finding the solution of adolescents’ mental health within community, and the important roles of community in preventive and promotive mental health. Dr Kumar recommended, that there should be a “Solid monitoring of National Mental Health Policy in letter and Spirits, Risk behaviour screening of people with Mental Health issue, and Mental Health advocacy has to be in a movement mode.”
Looking back from 2013 and onwards, the WHO objectives of mental health related discussions across the globe have been mental health first-aid, mental health in workplaces, suicide prevention, mental health care for all, and mental health-wellbeing for all as a global priority. Through these objectives one can understand that there has been a gradual shift from mental illness to mental wellbeing. For the year 2023, the mental health objective stated by the WHO (2023) is to “raise awareness of mental health related concerns and to look for ways to mobilize efforts in support of mental health”. The objective highlights the need for discussions among key stakeholders working for promoting and practicing mental health-wellbeing using various therapeutic approaches.
On the second day, panelists discussed the critical issues concerned with the safety and mental health-wellbeing of children, adolescents, and young people. One of the panel discussions highlighted the significant findings of an empirical study on sexual violence against boys carried out in Philippines, Cambodia, Nepal and India. The panel shared insights on raising awareness, need for accentuating dialogue and advocacy with the key stakeholders, to put in place programmes and services for boys experiencing sexual violence. The second panel of the day discussed the impact of
internet, social media and experiences of online abuse on mental health of children, adolescents and young people and the importance of digital safety. Through the discussion, preventive strategies to strengthen online digital safety and support services for overcoming internet addiction and experiences of abuse on online digital spaces was emphasized.
11 May 2023: The context was set by Dr Shekhar Seshadri who focused on the Juvenile Justice system and Children in need of care and protection. This was followed by a keynote address by Dr. Harish Shetty who while talking about the mental health of children, said “Sharing your stories is more important than sharing your glories.” He stressed on the mental health concerns in schools and pointed out that “Segregation destroys the confidence of children.”
The third day of the conference was inaugurated by Chief Guest Smt. L.S Changsan, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Education, Government of India who stressed that, “Education must lead to a complete, holistic development of the entire personality of the child”.
On the third day, the panel discussions elaborated the relation and functions of educational systems vis-à-vis school, family, and community in mobilizing efforts in support of mental health of children and adolescents. It also highlighted mental health-wellbeing as a public health concern to be addressed through preventive and promotive measures. It also focused on school based interventions promoting mental health-wellbeing, strategies to promote mental health-wellbeing in educational systems, mechanism promoting mental health-wellbeing of children and adolescents at family and community level, promotive aspects of mental health mechanisms for children-adolescents in India, Community mental healthcare in conflict situation for children and adolescents, role of family and community in promoting mental health-wellbeing of children and adolescents, and social work approaches in community mental health.
The Valedictory remarks were given by Dr. K. Srinath Reddy (Professor, PHFI) which was followed by the Poster Presentation Award Ceremony.
*The entire recordings of the all the sessions can be accessed here-