Youth participation – October 12 2020 Youth advocate promotes online counselling technology 23-year old Moses Aiyenuro wants mental health support for young people to be more easily accessible through their phones. Now, with the help of peers on the SOS Children’s Villages International Youth Coalition, he is getting support to realize his ideas. The student of material engineering has been thinking for a long time about a solution to unaddressed mental health needs of young people. His wish is to create a tool that is easily available and easy to use to relieve young people’s suffering from stress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and other mental health conditions. “I started to feel increased stress when I failed exams and there were other failed expectations which became a lot of pressure,” says Moses, explaining his motivation. “I read statistics and thought of all the young people who face mental health pressure in silence without help and thought of ways to address depression and other mental health issues through technology.” Growing up in an SOS Children’s Village in Lagos, Nigeria, Moses joined the SOS Children’s Villages International Youth Coalition in 2017 where he could share his ideas and got support to develop them. ‘I wanted to walk the talk’ As a member of the International Youth Coalition, Moses started to exchange ideas and personal experiences with other youth advocates from around the world. He met decision makers and gave a speech on youth participation through digitalization. “The experience alone has helped shaped my thought process on discussions affecting our world. Being a member of the international youth coalition opened up my mind to conversations I could have never have had in Nigeria,” he explains his motivation as youth advocate. In his exchange with other young people, Moses realized how many of them fear to address their mental health pressures with families and friends, but would seek counselling support if full privacy and accessibility was guaranteed. “There is a lot of stigma around mental health support needs. Young people fear to turn to family and friends to reveal mental health pressures. Even if they do, counselling is often costly and not available in all areas,” says Moses. His wish is to create an app which offers instant messaging targeting young people between 14 and 24 years and connects them directly and confidentially with a counsellor or psychologist. He pursued this idea together with other young people who developed a proposal for the ‘Blueroom’ app. The colour blue symbolizes safety and ‘room’ indicates privacy and that counselling via the tool is confidential. “My wish would be to create this app and make it available in as many countries as possible around the world. Every child and young person should have access to counselling,” Moses says. What needs to change Moses idea of creating a tool aims to break barriers of accessibility and timeliness. Implementing digital solutions could increase early intervention reaching larger numbers of young people and prevent long-term negative mental health impacts for individuals and societies. Children and young people who have lost parental care have often experienced high levels of stress, as have other children in different situations of vulnerability. Moses has specific advice for young people: “Don’t wait until an adult recognizes you have symptoms of depression, anxiety or stress, etc. chances are your symptoms might go undetected and at worst untreated. You must identify someone you trust to share your struggles with but more importantly someone that can provide a trustworthy opinion. In the absence of a trusted adult, please talk to a counsellor or psychologist.” The young advocate considers protection and promotion of mental health well-being key: “We need to demystify mental health and consider that mental health pressure can affect anyone. Mental health care should be part of primary care. If adults would be more empathetic, young people would more easily open up about their stress. More could be prevented,” he says.