Youth from eight countries embrace a new approach to mental health

It looked rather ambitious: youth from 8 countries AND youth peer researchers AND youth peer advisers AND in the middle of pandemic, were to consider a range of potential ingredients to anxiety and depression, within their sociocultural contexts AND, crucially, globally. AND in a space of a few months.

But they have mastered every challenge thrown at them, more as active agents than the usual recipients. Unlike other projects, it has been a great learning experience to just sit back at times and take it all in, watching youth with lived experiences do all the work!

Moving from observations to frantic analysis and exciting findings to share shortly, it would be naive not to acknowledge the three (socioecological?) drivers, who were crucial in getting the best out of this global youth talent: the Wellcome Trust in iteratively involving us in their research strategy on active ingredients for youth anxiety and depression; the great CORC team; and, naturally, our 8 partners around the world, who have established sufficient trust and credibility on the ground to enable youth to come forward. And thanks Anja for the map, feels as real as pre-pandemic!

Our young person’s journey during the pandemic

You may recall our youth keynote speaker’s life journey from the Asia webinar, and the main drawing of her ups and downs. This was her second drawing of the ‘2020 map’, but with the ‘same philosophy’. There was some specific context such as the graveyard of losses at the bottom right, but overall this was not specific at all – merely continuation of what she described as ‘baby steps’ towards the future.

Again, the creativity of our young person was telling. This was a combination of struggles in the modern world (Netflix of numbness, carnival of misery, bad dream box, river of lost friendships, room of rage); doubts (house of uncertainty); but also hope (box of acceptance). One might have expected a severe setback from the pandemic, but this is not how she so eloquently processed the year that is soon to leave us – it certainly added to the struggles towards recovery but did not impede them. Let’s hope the same for the rest of the world, as messages of hope arrive for a different 2021.

Children’s coping responses following Iran earthquake: new paper

It must be the Middle East week – second paper, this time from Zobeydeh! Although its focus is on a questionnaire psychometric properties, it does show the coping strategies used by children following an earthquake in Sahol-e-Zahab in northern Iran.

The most important finding was the similarity of coping strategies across cultures and societies. On top of this, Iranian children tended to fall back more on active coping, especially optimism – don’t we all need this at the moment?!

The paper is open access at:

Lessons from new paper: Never make cultural assumptions, and if not sure, ask the young people!

This was a small part of Nouf’s ongoing research on different protective factors for youth mental health in Saudi Arabia.

What struck me about her first (attached) paper is that some researchers previously made assumptions on the style of parenting that maybe more suited to a given culture. When we asked a large number of young people, they came up with the consistent finding globally, i.e. that positive and nurturing parenting are protective in the face of adversity:

End of global webinar relay with innovative prevention and the youngest keynote speaker!

Relay teams tend to leave their most formidable and known runner to run down the finish line – we opted for a 16-year-old Brazilian rising star, and she did not disappoint. She is not short of experience already, from an emotional literacy programme to youth advising in her new role. Her suggestions how to improve emotional literacy were worth waiting for!

The rest of speakers brought their own youthful innovation in tough contexts. Engaging homeless youth on the streets of Chicago through mobile phones technology is not for the faint-hearted, but faint-hearted Niranjan is certainly not. The response to the pandemic challenge by UNICEF and ASEC was brave and forward-thinking too (presented by our two big Js, Joana and Juliana respectively).

Times of crisis are also opportunities for innovation, which is exactly what the youth peer networks were introduced for in Brazil and Latin America. The plan is for 1,000 youth to take part in Brazil, with each young person helping three peers according to a framework.

A massive thanks to all who planned the relay – one more film on youth-focused practice to follow!

“Young people love taking responsibility”: Messages from our youth keynote speaker in Africa

As yesterday, sharing the living experience was powerful. This time in being both a refugee and growing up in care. We had planned the presentation a few weeks ago, and I suggested to our youth keynote speaker whether he could highlight how practitioners would benefit from his experience. Some strong messages:

(about being in care) “Why me?”, “Why not other children?”
“It was very hard for the first three years”
(how children and youth are perceived by services) “Many children are seen as the problem”, “They feel punished, neglected”
(how to engage and support youth) “Trust”, “Not judge”, “If they know the future is in their hands, this is going to be more effective”

During our discussion following excellent presentations from professional and academic speakers, I asked him how these could be more helpful to young people on the ground, particularly those in disadvantage and transition: “Young people love having responsibility on what will benefit them”, “This is what services get wrong”

A really inspiring young person, even more so hearing that he wants to advise and help others – clear leadership qualities too!

WACIT Africa webinar: Innovation, youth and stakeholder engagement

These were the key messages today from Africa presenters and participants. Lay or community volunteers were shown to make a difference for people who were HIV positive and suffered from depression in Uganda through group psychotherapy (Ethel); whilst a first-response psychosocial intervention for disadvantaged youth in Kenya enhanced their quality of life and decreased PTSD symptoms (Elijah). Both presentations eloquently demonstrated how to contextualize interventions in different cultures, engage communities and tackle stigma.

All components were put together in one of the most comprehensive services for vulnerable children and youth in South Africa by Sam and Kids Haven. The continuity of pre-, in- and after-care is a great model globally. Participants shared their own innovation, e.g. a service for victims of domestic violence in rural South Africa.

Thanks everyone for carrying on the relay!

Youth keynote speaker from Asia webinar: A powerful life journey

This was always going to be the focus of the day – and our youth keynote speaker carried us all with her strength. Her artistic talents made the presentation even more powerful in putting the experience across – drawing below:

The village of fear, forest of uncertainty, desert of loneliness, road of anger, bank of rage, and box of undisclosed trauma were poetic but hard enough; to be followed by the distressing house of terror and box of death. Then the journey got calmer – here came the safety valve, desert of interests, fight fighters and road to safety; before what we all hoped to hear, i.e. road to happiness. Really humbling to share your life journey, I am sure it inspired many today!

Kicking off the global webinars relay with a bang – and more hope

It was a wholly different world to the 2016 physical WACIT relay. But this week started with hope, and people felt closer, with no less enthusiasm or commitment. The Asia showcase of good practice started with three diamonds:

A mindfulness school-based programme for deprived youth in New Delhi, India (with Mina talking from a hospital frontline! how more committed can one be?); a unique holistic service and approach to refugee children in Istanbul, Turkey, from Ibrahim; and an awareness/training programme for parents, teachers and other professionals – as well as therapeutic work by Sajida and her team in Karachi, Pakistan.

Thank you all, including such a large participant group!,

Meet our youth keynote speakers at the WACIT global webinars

I had the privilege to listen to two of the presentations and to meet the third speaker already – trust me, they will make a lasting impression on your practice and stance with their strength!

The journey, struggles and therapeutic development through arts of a young person in Pakistan is powerful and inspiring. Followed by a tough immigration and care journey of our youth speaker in South Africa. The Brazil youth speaker is the youngest, yet her maturity on emotional literacy strategies would do any professional event or training course proud.

Here is how you can meet and listen to them – our adult speakers and their innovative approaches all over the world are no pushovers either. All three free registration links and updated programme attached: