Our ‘new normal’ requires human contact, UN chief tells youth webinar on mental health

15 July 2020

How to adapt and move forward in the new reality of a COVID-19 world was the focus of a UN webinar on Wednesday, which considered how young people can maintain good mental health and a sense of wellbeing.

“Whether we are living in countries currently locked down or slowly opening up again, we all are facing a reality different from what we have ever known”, said UN Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake, moderator of the public series that is jointly sponsored by her office along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“Coping with COVID” offered young people a platform to connect amidst uncertainty, generate mental health awareness among youth worldwide, and strengthen demand for integrated mental health and psychosocial interventions.

Not normal

Secretary-General António Guterres said the pandemic has highlighted the fragility of our societies and the need to build back better.

Asked about what the so-called “new normal” means to him, the UN chief refused to characterize our collective state today in those terms, calling it instead “abnormal”.

“For me, human life needs human contact”, he told the participants. 

Explaining that he missed his family, friends and colleagues, Mr. Guterres maintained “we will not have a new normal before we are able to establish that contact”.

He did however, credit the ability of UN staffers over the past four months of lockdown, to easily adapt to the virtual world, which has kept the Organization “open for business”.

Mr. Guterres stressed not only the importance of universal healthcare, but that mental health needs to be given the priority it deserves.

“It is absolutely essential that governments make mental health central to their responses to COVID-19”, he spelled out.

He also stressed that youth have a “key role in helping to imagine a better future for everyone”, one that is more sustainable and inclusive. 

‘Strengthen mental health services’

Also taking part, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, acknowledged that “while “COVID-19 is a crisis, it's also an opportunity to improve things”.

“We should use this moment to strengthen mental health services for adolescents", he emphasized.

Noting that the full integration of mental health services for young people is "one of the greatest challenges”, he pointed out the need “to increase investment and political commitment”.

“There is no health without mental health”, he concluded. “The role of youth is crucial to make this happen”.

Top priority

UNICEF Executive Director, Henriette Fore, maintained that “mental health will be a top priority for us”. 

“Mental health and psychosocial support will be deeply engrained in all of our programmes”, she said, promising to “engage young people” and talk about good policies and services “in every country.” 

Although this is already being done in many countries, she underlined that “it has to be part of a primary health care system".

Finally, Ms. Fore stressed to the young people in attendance that it is crucial not to talk “about” youth but “with” them.

‘Rainbow in every storm’

Meanwhile, Queen Mathilde of Belgium, told the virtual assembly that there was a need to “be active on all fronts: prevention, improve resilience, raise awareness, fight stigma and guarantee access to care for all".

“We can use the momentum created by the mobilization around COVID-19 to accelerate the mobilization around mental health”, she added.

In sharing responses to an online polling session, one young speaker from Indonesia highlighted some of the challenges young people are facing as well as actions they are taking either to protect themselves or others around them, calling youth “front liners” in the response.

Commented on their engagement around the word he said: “There is a rainbow in every storm.”
 

 

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