Mental Health – October 10 2022 ‘If you feel sad or angry, don’t suppress it’ Bharat Ahirwar, 23, a psychologist, has the experience of growing up in an SOS Children’s Village in Bhopal, India. He believes caregivers need to understand the mental and emotional struggles of children and young people, and must help them address any trauma as early as possible. Bharat, who graduated in psychology from Amity University in Noida, has counseled children and young people and has worked with patients with chronic mental disorders. He is a member of the YouthCan! Youth Advisory Board. Why did I decide to study psychology? The reasons were more personal, at first. I wanted to become the strongest version of myself. I wanted to grow as a person and understand myself from the perspective of my past. Having to decide on a career path puts enormous pressure on young people. At this point in life, I was struggling with my emotions, unsure what profession to choose. But, ever since I was a teenager, the human mind has fascinated me more than anything. Later on, I found out that as psychologists, we are not able to read minds, but we can read behaviors and help people. At the beginning of my studies, I realized how little I knew. In India and many other parts of the world, children in schools are not taught that mental health exists and needs to be taken care of. I realized it fully during my internship in a rehabilitation center for patients with chronic mental disorders. Some of these patients have passed away already but I will always remember their stories. Mental illness can destroy a person’s life – all their thought processes, physical health and relationships. Everything we need to have a good life can be taken away by a mental health condition if the right kind of help does not come on time. When you live with a mental disorder, you cannot think about the future. You cannot plan your tomorrow because you do not know who you are today. It is crucial to take care of the emotional well-being of each child and young person at the earliest stage possible so that they do not carry their mental health issues into adulthood. Having grown up in an SOS Children’s Village, I have witnessed trauma play a major role in children’s and young people’s lives. Many of us have lost parents, suffered violence or abuse. This is why we need caregivers with mental health training. We need caregivers who can understand what children and young people are struggling with inside because trauma is not visible on the outside. We need adults who take the time to bond with us and make us feel supported and encouraged. If a child does not feel safe in a relationship, how can they talk openly about their problems? In order not to harm children, caregivers must give equal attention and affection to all. They need to know what words to use, because words are like weapons – they can save or destroy a life. All of our difficult experiences, everything people have done and said to us shape our behavior and the way we think about ourselves. If our caregivers make us feel misunderstood, discouraged or inferior, we will believe all these things and give up on ourselves. Caregivers must take care of their own mental health as well, because if you cannot understand yourself, it is next to impossible that you will be able to understand another person. Children around the world suffer from loneliness that leads to anxiety and depression. Those in alternative care often struggle even more because of their traumas and emotional dysregulation. They cannot find inner stability and their trust issues prevent them from building relationships. Academic pressure is another burden. Teachers and caregivers often assume those who fail in school simply do not want to study. In reality, all children and young people want to learn, but some are simply unable to focus or believe in their abilities because of traumas and mental health issues. In many cases, instead of getting the right diagnosis, treatment and guidance, they get deprived of opportunities for the future. On World Mental Health 2022, I wish all children and young people courage, support and opportunities for self-care and self-expression. If you feel sad or angry, don’t suppress it. Share your thoughts, socialize, be physically active to keep your mind clear. Do not give up on experiencing life, jump on every opportunity. Build your inner strength and resilience to be prepared for what comes next. And if you struggle emotionally, ask for help. You do not have to go through whatever you are going through on your own. You have the right to be supported to feel good. And if you feel good, you can do good in the world.