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World Mental Health Day: Focus on young people

There can be no discussion on mental health without addressing suicide, writes crisis psychiatrist Mark Xuereb.

Saturday, 4pm, two weeks ago.

The police call the 24/7 crisis line. A young man called them saying he left a goodbye note on his bed and is going to end his life. The reason? His parents received revealing pictures of him interacting with a woman online. This woman blackmailed him. Unable to pay her ‘fees’ this internet lady shared the pictures. This crisis crushed the young man psychologically. He wanted out.

We call the young man. He is tearful, shaken and is heading towards Valletta. We manage to calm him down and buy time. At the same time, we are communicating with the police who dispatch all their available mobile units there. The man is relentless and determined. “Tell my brother I love him very much. I cannot face the shame.” Our crisis professional is worried but equally determined to save this poor man. “Where are you? Tell me about your brother. Let us help you. We all make mistakes and we can all be forgiven,” she states in a calm and empathic tone.

Despite the ongoing training, every crisis needs significant concentration and tact. She convinces him to sit on the pavement. At one point the phone goes dead. Fearing the worst, she calls again. Thankfully, he is there but is now on the ledge. She perseveres. She talks to him about how much his family loves him and about the pain he would inflict on his loved ones if he took his life. At the same time, she cannot but hope that the police will get there – and fast. The next thing she hears is the sound of a radio and all goes dead again. She calls. No reply. Tension is sky high but is shattered when she is called by the police control room. The man has been saved. What a relief. Another young life saved. On to the next caller.

The above is not some excerpt from a movie. It is an almost weekly occurrence in little Malta.

As we watch the news, scroll the internet and talk to family and friends around the world, it’s apparent that psychological instability, violence and constant traumatic events are becoming daily occurrences. Discrimination is out of the dark alleys and into the mainstream again and mental illness seems to be on the rise. But many young people are not seeking treatment that could inevitably help lessen the severity of their illness and give them the tools to live a more productive and stable life.

Our young people today face constant stressors and challenges – happening in their own lives and in the world around them. Many of the issues facing our young people today, such as, bullying, suicide, the onset of major mental illnesses, the effects of trauma, and gender identity discrimination require our time and attention, global awareness and compassion, as well as new programmes and guidelines on how we can protect and empower the next generation.

Suicide is the ultimate tragedy in mental health. Unfortunately, it is on the rise in our youth

This year, World Mental Health Day (commemorated on October 10 each year, a month after World Suicide Prevention Day) reminds us about the issues facing young people.

Those aged between 14 and 28 are identified as youth. Suicide is the ultimate tragedy in mental health. Unfortunately, it is on the rise in our youth. It is also the commonest cause of non-accidental death in this age category worldwide.

Adolescence and the early years of adulthood are a time of life when many changes occur, for example changing schools, leaving home, and starting university or a new job. For many, these are exciting times. They can also be times of stress and apprehension however. In some cases, if not recognised and managed, these feelings can lead to mental illness.

Half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14 and three-quarters by mid-20s, but most cases go undetected and untreated. In terms of the burden of the disease among adolescents, depression is the third leading cause. Harmful use of alcohol and illicit drugs among adolescents is a major issue in many countries and can lead to risky behaviours such as unsafe sex or dangerous driving. Eating disorders are also of concern. Mental health is the number one reason people visit their GPs.

Prevention of mental health issues begins with better understanding. Much can be done to help build mental resilience from an early age to help prevent mental distress and illness among adolescents and young adults, and to manage and recover from mental illness. Prevention begins with being aware of and understanding the early warning signs and symptoms of mental illness. Parents and teachers can help build life skills of children and adolescents to help them cope with everyday challenges at home and at school. Psychosocial support can be provided in schools and other community settings and of course training for health workers to enable them to detect and manage mental health disorders can be put in place, improved or expanded.

Government investment should be linked to programmes to raise awareness among adolescents and young adults of ways to look after their mental health and to help peers, parents and teachers know how to support their friends, children and students. The focus locally must be to implement a national suicide prevention strategy. This includes having a fully functional and equipped crisis team and telephone booths at places where people jump to their deaths. These initiatives are evidence based and save lives. We owe it to our youth and our nation to stem the suffering.

We must, however, move from words to action and invest more in our mental health frontline emergency service, i.e. crisis teams. This will reduce long-term illness, admissions and ultimately make Malta and Gozo a healthier place.

You too can help make Malta and Gozo a better place for mental health. If you know of someone in crisis, reach out and take that person to a professional. Do not leave them alone and get in touch on the free 24/7 crisis line. Like the police, you too can be a hero, be part of the crisis team and save a life.
24/7 free crisis line 9933 9966
FB Crisis Resolution Malta

crisismalta@gmail.com

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