Dr Astril Webb


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A young person contemplates suicide every eight minutes, and every eight hours, there is an attempt.

President of Healthy Kinder International (KHI), Dr Astril Webb, said data shows that suicide was climbing as one of the leading causes of death among youth.

During an interview on CNC3’s The Morning Brew on Wednesday, Webb said the time to act was now as these feelings of being in a dark place, hopelessness and helplessness were driving these statistics. Therefore, recognising the warning signs and symptoms of a youth struggling with mental health is crucial.

Webb, a senior global trainer and human rights consultant in the United States of America, says the COVID-19 pandemic highlights youth mental health issues more.

“Our young people are struggling socially, emotionally, academically. For most youth, social development is key, especially at this age, and they are not able to do it in the pandemic. They have seen a significant amount of death, loss, dying, and it is scary for a young person,” Webb said.

One evidence-based programme KHI uses is the Youth Mental Health First Aid Programme. It uses a non-clinical perspective to teach youth mental health and break down the walls of stigma and discrimination regarding mental health issues.

Kurshelle Reyes, an ambassador for the programme and Certified Youth Mental Health First Aider, said it was sad to see websites promote suicide.

Reyes said the training would help young people change their perspectives on life. It will also teach them to identify youths who are struggling.

The age group for youth mental health is 12-18, but Webb said the information is applicable for people age eight-26. HKI caters to people from primary school to tertiary education level because many have unresolved issues from their younger years. Webb said it was best to catch these problems before the trials of adulthood. She said the earlier the intervention, the better the overall outcome.

While social media is a platform that connects people around the world, cyber-bullying is a significant driver of depression for most young people. Youth often get negative feedback on social media while merely looking for a space to belong.

Webb said social development is probably the most critical phase of their lives. Therefore, they look for likes and positive comments on what they post on social media.

However, she said that the truth was that people are often negative and say many ugly things to these young people.

“It is extremely important to recognise because of the link to the social development. It is going to happen. How do we overcome it? We have to empower young people, build their self-esteem. We need to start speaking to them more. They need to understand we love them unconditionally the way they are.”

While adults often criticise young people for making poor choices, Webb said mistakes were part of their development. With time, they will learn how to make better decisions, especially if there is the support of a village.

Without the support of a village, she said young people turn to social media, where the impact of negative feedback traumatises some.

“They play the messages over and over in their heads as though it is a tape recorder because they believe it. We have to learn how to speak more verbally and non-verbally to our young people, so they do not depend on social media,”she said.

Anyone interested in the Youth Mental Health First Aid Programme in partnership with Future Focus Empowerment Institute International can check out futurefocusemi.org or email [email protected]