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Dr. Ndagijimana discusses what can be done to address the youth mental health crisis

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In dealing with the problem of mental illnesses that affect youth, one of the main pillars that must be supported through various programs that include learning how to treat these diseases is the youth themselves.

Mental illness is a global concern; unfortunately, it always affects young people, who are expected to be the future’s strength; as of today, 14% of the million people who face mental health issues are young people.

In Rwanda, the number of young people with this problem is alarming, as more than 70% of the 96,357 patients admitted to the Caraes Ndera psychiatric hospital in the last year of 2021/2022 are young people. That equates to over 67 thousand people.

Despite the rising numbers, Dr Ndagijimana Jean Pierre, a mental health specialist, says it is unclear whether it is the rising in new cases of people who develop mental illness or if it is the people who were already dealing with it that are now seeking help.

“Research really needs to be done properly,” he said, to determine whether these are new cases or if the person was already dealing with mental illness and is now seeking help.

He went on to say that often people are misunderstood since their environment does not know they are dealing with any sort of mental illness and this is often the case since mental illness can manifest later in life.

He uses the survivors of the Tutsi Genocide in 1994 as an example, stating that some did not immediately show symptoms because they were still in shock and had not come to fully realise what had happened to them.

He said, “When a person is fleeing and gets injured they only stop to evaluate their injuries when what was chasing them is no longer.”

Adding, “The injuries are there but the people do not realize them fully until they are no longer in that situation.”

He believes that this is one of the reasons people use drugs to forget what has happened to them. They rely on friends and social media, emphasizing that it’s all a safe haven for people who want to avoid dealing with reality.

According to Dr. Ndagijimana, spending time with the youth in various programs will make a significant contribution to dealing with this type of illness through treatment and training people on how not to stigmatize those with this disease.

He also believes that young people can help to reduce the number of cases of mental illness.

He cites a conference organized by a coalition of young people from the University of Rwanda’s Department of Clinical Psychology, with the theme “Mental health built by the youth,” as an example of how young people should take action for one another.

“It will be more effective if you, as a youth, are given the time to teach your friends and treat them for this illness than if it comes from me,” he said.

Dr. Ndagijimana believes that encouraging young people to learn about psychology (Clinical Psychology) and other sciences related to mental health will help them deal with this illness because they are the ones who understand what their peers are going through.

He suggests that when speaking with someone who has experienced trauma or has a mental illness, it should be done by someone who understands because not every conversation will help, but the right words and comfort will go a long way.

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