By Fradreck J Mujuru
WE growingly understand our predicament as young people. Indeed, we may lack the sense and courage of advocacy, clear-cut channels, communication skills, or wisdom to air our struggles, but the fact is we are suffering.
The coming of COVID-19 saw us being asked many questions by our families, school, colleges, professional engagements and even from the government.
You wanted us to cope, volunteer and run around, to remain hopeful and to carry the tag that we are the generation to look up to. I can say we tried. You might not be aware how much we were also struggling with our daily living.
As parents, colleges, professional families and government, you might also have overestimated how much we can cope and bear because of our seemingly happy faces that mask the struggles within us. This is the reason mental health crisis has taken a rise and on this note, you have to listen to us; we are suffering.
Speaking of our experiences, lockdowns were not easy on us. We understood the gravity of the public health need for such a move, but it crushed our plans, hopes and amplified already existing mental health problems to some of us.
COVID-19 forced us to retrace our roots and started living with our parents and guardians. Our opportunities of exploring the world, making connections, learning, calibrating skills and the potential ability of self-reliance were robbed. We were living through the screens of our television sets and mobile phones when the power is around. This is the point when loneliness, hopelessness, anxiety and depression visited us. It is prudent to listen to us and know where we are and do not blankly cover our struggles as if we are elders, listen to us.
I had friends who just graduated and can’t manage to have the opportunity of applying for jobs due to lockdown and lack of resources. Some of them had migrated from one town to another trying to start a new life and were stuck, had to learn living alone despite struggling with little or no income. The corporates they are targeting are closing, meaning opportunities are continuously shrinking. On the other side, we see in despair our economy imploding, an explicit sign to remind us that it shall take long to launch and relaunch our careers. We are all carrying this burden with us as young people and we need help.
We know our predicament and at times, as young people, not recognised only when it is strategic. Applauding the efforts to the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines in the country, as young people, we also found ourselves at the lower side of the receiving end. We noticed shall come last if we are to be vaccinated in the first place. From a progressive understanding, it is common knowledge we are people eager to go out into the world and try to live, search for opportunities, knowledge, careers, relationships, and all. Why can we not get the preference so we ignite our hopes and endeavours? I wish you would listen to us.
As I said before, this struggle without being heard and getting assistance is increasing mental health problems not in our country alone, but across the globe. The Unicef report on March 4, 2021 estimated that 332 million children are facing mental health problems. In the United States, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that one of every four young Americans considered suicide in 2020. Unicef (2020) noted that 42% of the youths in Latin America and the Caribbean are suffering from depression or anxiety. This problem is also existent in some developed nation such as the United Kingdom where 40% (WHO, 2020) of the young people have deteriorated mental health capacity. This should make us ponder about our own country that lacks social service nets, medical infrastructure and a dwindling environment in which our voices as young people cannot be entertained.
Now lockdowns are eased, but what about the recovery of the young people, importantly their mental health then their enterprises.
The long impacts of the pandemic and succeeding lockdowns on the young people shall make some of us struggle to heal and the unfortunate ones will not heal permanently if we drag to act. Putting this through to the public should be celebrated as a cause for hope. This resembles a change in attitude wanting to engage and talk about the issues that are affecting us and get guidance. We do not want to suffer in silence and from your side do not make us suffer in silence too.
The period we lived was hard on elders and have you ever wondered the youths more so girls and young women. Coronavirus and the lockdowns compounded the already fractured social balance. Women are forced to take a lot of unpaid care work to the sick and extended families. We have seen the streak of child marriages continuing, unwanted pregnancies, gender-based violence and the genital mutilation of kids under women care which has the potential to harm their psychological and emotional health for life (Tapiwa Makore of Murehwa, Melissa and Daniel Benza of Nyanga to mention a few). Though this violent act of losing a child hits man hard, it is worst for women due to their biological and physical nature. This is why we say listen to us; we are suffering.
Waiting for the pandemic to end might be too late for our recovery. This is not only a moral imperative, but we also recognise the social and economic essence of investing in mental health. The World Health Organisation report of October 5, 2020 stated that depression and anxiety alone strangle the world economy of US one trillion per year. However, if an investment is made in mental health wellbeing, every dollar invested generates five dollars in return. Besides that, mental health is a right. This is the reason we want you to listen to us, so that you will not sow irrevocable toxic seeds that germinate with emotional and psychological deformities through our generation. Try to listen to us.
Zimbabwe has been strategically warned back in 2016 through the Unicef where a sum of US 45 million was needed to address the healthcare needs and employment of youths. The report stated that if no investment is to be taken, the country will experience a population boom, increase in criminal and gang activities by 12%in the next 10 years. This shall be driven by the unemployed youths as they slumber into robberies, unprotected sex and drug abuse. We have already been seeing how drug abuse is becoming a health and human security threat to Zimbabwe.