On Monday, I had the pleasure of doing the graphic recording for a mental health training workshop by the Commonwealth Youth Council.
The CYC is the official representative of over 1.2 billion young people living within the 52 Commonwealth countries, including those in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Pacific and the Americas. Each country, and its citizens, has an equal say within the Commonwealth, regardless of size, political culture or economic standing.
However, it is one thing to ensure democracy, but another to ensure everyone’s voice is effectively heard.
The Commonwealth Youth Council is actively campaigning to not only bring young people’s voices into policy and advocacy around key topics such as climate, sustainability and equitable development, but also recognise that factors such as race, gender, religion, and physical and mental health also can influence people’s path to empowerment.
Recognising intersectionality is just as important as recognising the need for inclusion.
The #IAmAble campaign focuses specifically on young people with disabilities, including both physical and mental health conditions. The training day ran from 9am – 5pm, and included talks from lawyers, youth leaders and Commonwealth Secretariats. The audience was diverse, with people from India, Ghana, small island states, America and the UK. All were passionate about unveiling the hidden realities and inspiring success stories of those with disabilities, including deafness, physical disability and mental health issues such as anxiety.
Overall, it was agreed that there needs to be more real-time data (stories, facts, figures) on youth with disabilities, to bust any myths and ensure adaptive, supportive policy change. Without this, policy makers (and wider society) will continue using outdated and unrepresentative language which leads to non-supportive infrastructure for people living with disabilities.
Non-supportive infrastructure can seem trivial, but have a huge impact on the well-being of a disabled person. For example, not equipping schools and colleges with disability champions, so that a disabled person has to move away from friends and family. The long-term impacts of this can include isolation and even mental health issues. Or, in legal policy, the use of language such as ‘insane’ or ‘inefficient’ to describe disabilities provokes a stigma that diffuses into media, careers and even everyday mindsets.
The take-home message was that, by providing appropriate infrastructure – handbooks, data, training, stigma reduction measures etc. – we are one step closer to preventing or managing mental and physical health issues in the future, which is much more economically and socially beneficial than simply treating the issues when they arise. Not only will this greatly improve the voice of young people living with disabilities, but catalyse progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of universal health care, equality and equity.
For more information and opportunities for young people, please do have a look at the following:
I Am Able campaign – Website
Press release on youth with disabilities in Commonwealth.