Yesterday, 12th August, is celebrated every year as International Youth Day and this year the theme is “Mental Health Matters”. The rise in mental health issues in young people in this country has increased exponentially; taking a look among the highways and seeing the many young people who lost their mind and are wandering the streets is now a common sight.
According to a study about 27,000 people are suffering from mental disorders and half of this number has mental illness caused by cannabis among other drugs. Now this should cause worry in all concerned citizens. Knowing for a fact that the majority of those using drugs are youths, who are supposed to be the backbone of a country’s striving towards development. The Gambia will go practically nowhere in its efforts to increase and boost the level of economic advancement if the bulk of the youthful population is drifting towards drugs thereby compromising their own mental wellbeing.
Apart from the harms of mentally impairing users, drugs contribute to the high rate of school dropouts and crimes in a country, and it’s an established fact that the attainment sound mental health and education are an imperative. Education is key to all that’s good in life and without it a person will at best be like the proverbial leaf on a wave. It will be a catastrophe to allow a majority of the youths live in ignorance and illiteracy, because that will cost the nation more than it was ever going to spend in fighting the drug menace itself.
It must be noted that most of the things making young people indulge in these activities are issues that should be tackled at a societal level. The fallacious notion that drugs help in easing every day stress and tensions needs to be fought with proper teaching and awareness within the homes and schools. The school system should specifically have counseling sessions on these issues and engage relevant stakeholders to raise awareness on the many fallacies and myths surrounding the use of drugs.
Arresting and punishing the culprits is a good measure but how long will that take to eradicate the problem? The use of force will only go a short way in addressing the problem; the real solution is to strive to change the favourable perceptions of young people about drugs. Many times, ironically, the law enforcement efforts only increase the use of substances, that with the glorification of gangster and thug mentalities by most of the music now available to youths, it is seen as almost heroic to indulge in things that contravene the laws of the land. So the challenge lies in deconstructing those myths and offer alternatives to healthier types of entertainment.
The government should work hand-in-hand with the civil society and all relevant stakeholders and actualise the agenda of promoting the means to mental health. Investment should be directed towards that end, considering the fact that we have only one mental institution with limited capacity. It is also necessary to have a rehabilitation centre for those who are caught in the vicious cycle of addiction. Ultimately it’s the duty of all Gambians to help in making our country a mentally sound nation.]]>