09/05/2021 – As we come towards the end of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, we take a look at the work of young people at our Rio Academy who are leading the way in spreading the word and tackling taboos in mental health and wellbeing.

In the second half of 2020, a group of 30 young people took up roles as mobilisers and were  involved in a series of activities aimed at promoting mental health. Chief among these activities were the conducting of a survey among local residents of Maré, the community in which the Fight for Peace Rio Academy is based, and a podcast called MOBcast that was released in April this year.

The initiative is part of the wider CRIAndo Redes project, a UNICEF initiative delivered in partnership with Fight for Peace and local Brazilian NGOs, Observatório de Favelas and Redes da Maré.

Along with the podcast series and survey, the CRIAndo Redes project has seen the launch of a Fight for Peace Mental Health Methodology Guide, presenting responses to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the lives of children and young people. This document, which takes the form of an e-book, contains detailed strategies and guidance for organisations offering psychosocial support.

Between September and November 2020, young mobilisers led on the distribution of a mental health survey among 323 local people. The findings showed that during the COVID-19 pandemic up until that point in time, the principal challenges affecting people were worry and anxiety (22%), followed by financial difficulties (21%). Beyond this, other areas highlighted by the survey included excessive time spent on the internet, being distanced from loved ones, and arguments at home.

The survey used the UNICEF-developed U-Report platform and was distributed electronically by young mobilisers taking part in the programme. Answers to the survey questions were then sent back via an autofill tool on WhatsApp. Reflecting on the results, Head of Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Camila Garroux noted that the results highlighted an important perspective relating to gender:

“We see a difference in the impact of the pandemic on women for example,” says Camila. “In questions referring to relationships with social media, 52% of female respondents said that it had a negative affect on them and that bad news increased their anxiety. The figure for male respondents during this period was 24%. In addition, male respondents appeared three times as positive as women in relation to the pandemic.”

In order to increase visibility and amplify discussions on mental health, the young mobilisers involved in the project created MOBcast, a podcast where fears, insecurities, and issues including neglect by the state, sexism and racism are discussed. MOBcast has also acted as a space where young people can come together to share approaches to self-care.

The direct and indirect impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated unemployment and access to food and essentials, and have put a strain on family relationships, leading to an increase in factors affecting mental health. The pandemic has also had other specific consequences for children and young people, who have had their daily lives profoundly altered by the closure of schools and reduced access to leisure facilities and providers.

“We had loads of autonomy to discuss and research these themes,” explained Juliane Silva, a young mobiliser. “As soon as we came together we decided what it was we wanted to do.”

Although mental health is a theme that is widely discussed on the internet and in other fora, speaking about the issue can still be taboo, and perhaps uncomfortable in some environments. Increasing and sharing knowledge on mental health can break down barriers.  With our young people at the forefront, we have cause for optimism for where this debate can go, as well as for a broadening of dialogue, and further support and care in this field.

The MOBcast mental health podcast is available to listen to in Portuguese via this link.

The Fight for Peace Mental Health Methodology Guide e-book can be downloaded in full in Portuguese here.

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