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On the 12th August, more than 300 youth from the Ayerwaddy Region, Mon State, Marie Stopes International, Yangon University and the Youth Development Programme (YDP) in Yangon, came together to celebrate International Youth Day, organised by the Myanmar Medical Association (MMA) in collaboration with UNFPA. This year’s theme was ‘Mental Health Matters!’ There was a panel discussion, followed by a Q&A session and several role plays, which focused on dealing with harassment and youths’ anxieties about employment and relationships. UNFPA also developed an on line quiz for youth focusing on mental health and sexual and reproductive health issues and a ‘Selfies campaign’ with 26 youth from the YDP, who expressed their concerns about the situation facing youth in Myanmar today.

A panel discussion included Dr. Nilar Kyu, Professor of Psychology, Yangon University, Dr. Ne Win, Assistant Representative, UNFPA, Ms. Ponnya Khin and Mr. Lu Nay, both writers, Dr. Myat Sandi Min and Ms. Thinzar Shoon Lei Yi, both representatives from the MMA. They discussed mental health issues relating to adolescents, particularly a lack of self-esteem and a lack of role-models, guidance in decision making and the importance of quality education through to completion. A question and answer session followed where youth brought up the need for guidance and confidence to navigate their way through the transition from adolescence to adulthood and the challenges of gaining employment. 

Professor Ye Mra, President of MMA, stressed that there are 16 million youth in Myanmar. They are critical for the future development of the country. He added that decades ago youth were not recognised but now the United Nations has quantified the range of youth. He emphasised that the definition of mental health is now much broader. It covers youths’ concerns about sexual and reproductive health, their lack of self-esteem, and anxieties they have about their futures. He estimated that around 20% of youth worldwide are suffering from a mental health issue. He concluded by saying: “We have all been through the transition from adolescence to adulthood and I wish all of you well as you go through this change.” 

Janet Jackson, UNFPA Country Representative, referred to data showing that 20% of the world’s youth population are suffering from a mental health issue. Adding that it is always useful to quantify figures, she said: “Looking around this room, and applying the 20%, this means a fifth of youth could be suffering from some form of mental health condition. Looking at it in this way suddenly makes it more real and closer to home.” She said addressing Mental Health must not be ignored if young people are to reach their full potential. UNFPA is committed to working with youth so that they can reach their full potential by; listening to what matters to them; providing appropriate sex education and comprehensive youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services to prevent unintended pregnancies, gender based violence and HIV/STI infections; and ensuring youth have positive role models. 

Adolescence is a time for testing boundaries, as Ms. Jackson said: “It’s a time of can do rather than can’t do”. She concluded by thanking the MMA youth for organising the event and called upon the government to focus on addressing young people’s needs, including programmes that address youth leadership and participation.