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Increasing attention has been brought to caring for youth mental wellbeing since the pandemic. While there have been more pathways towards mental wellness since, mental health and wellbeing issues continue to be one of the health challenges in Asia, especially for youths. In India, Malaysia, and Singapore alone, the total economic loss from mental health costs is an estimated USD29.16 billion per year – that’s almost equivalent to Cambodia’s GDP in 2022.
Even so, such losses also present the opportunity to make a difference to the youths in Asia. We first stressed the funding gaps that exist in the youth mental wellbeing space at the AVPN Global Conference in June. To continue the conversation on the role of funders to support youth mental wellbeing, we held a virtual convening to further discuss best funding practices to amplify impact and scale.
On Thursday, 17 August 2023, close to 40 individuals comprising funders and non-profit organisation leaders gathered at a virtual funders convening to learn more about effective funding practices. Packed with a lively panel discussion, interactive polls, and enriching small group sharings, many left the 90-minute session with new insights.
Moderated by Matt Oon, CEO of Acceset and AVPN Young Impact Leader, our panel speakers brought together different perspectives that culminated in three key lessons:
We need to bring youths to the table
Like the foundation of a building, tackling healthy mental wellbeing challenges among youths is paramount as they transition into adulthood. The inability to thrive and build resilience can lead to increased risks of mental health illnesses, which have compounded effects in adulthood (ADB, 2020).
But youths are more than just helpless beneficiaries. Dr Miranda Wolpert, Director of Mental Health from Wellcome Trust, shared the value in viewing youths as co-collaborators, “When we include youths, we can design interventions fitted to their needs, rather than assuming their needs that ultimately lead to a mismatch in solutions.” Her experience of working with young people often brought fresh ideas; for instance, when designing solutions in a school setting, considerations of what constituted a safe and supportive environment were best answered from youths themselves.
Similarly, AVPN is also heeding Dr Wolpert’s advice as part of the application review process, the Asian Youth Mental Wellbeing Fund has set up a Young Impact Leader Advisory Committee, composed of youths with the knowledge and experience in mental wellbeing in the region to provide their perspectives.
Investing in youths is an investment for the future
Impacts on youth mental wellbeing have ripple effects on other actors in society, including corporates: as the future workforce, corporates also have a role to play in this silent epidemic.
Anchor funders BHP and Chevron of the Asian Youth Mental Wellbeing Fund recognised the impact of COVID-19 on youth mental wellbeing, and believed that tackling these issues was imperative for a better future.
Maya Donevska, Vice-President of Corporate Affairs (Asia) at BHP shared about the findings of their independent think tank, “They found that many health systems were overburdened, and the overdemand from the pandemic intensified barriers to accessing high quality healthcare.” As advocates of mental health at work, supporting the wider community in getting the right help seemed like the natural
Dedication to employee mental wellbeing is also in Chevron’s blood; the organisation was awarded the 2023 Platinum Bell Seal for Workplace Mental Health. As youths are the future workforce, Dee Bourbon, Senior Social Investment Advisor, viewed investing in early interventions in mental health for young people as prevention-focused solutions that can reduce the damaging effects of mental health conditions in the future.
The longevity of our efforts lie in collective action
Our panellists shared two aspects of collective effort: using pooled funds for catalytic impact, and cross-sector collaboration for sustainable mental health services.
Both funders on our panel highlighted how collaborative funds have the potential for funders, service providers, and ecosystem builders to see the same risks, align to the same objectives, and work together to deliver and scale on similar outcomes – ultimately, this gives the best shot to deliver real results in such a severely underserved field.
Beyond philanthropic funding, the end goal for a funded solution is for it to stand on its own; but such sustainability also means eventually shifting the cost and responsibility to someone else. Thus when asked who is responsible for the exit strategy of good mental wellbeing services, all panellists believed that all actors in society have a part to play.
“Mental health is impacted by all areas of your life. So the question is, how can we make mental health services more accessible to people? I believe that jointly, as governments, businesses, and individuals, we need to share the cost and responsibility of that,” Maya answered.
“To only rely on corporations also means tying your mental health services to the cyclical patterns of the economy, and this will affect the amount of resources available for mental health services,” Dee echoed.
Dr Wolpert also stressed the role of non-financial actors, “There’s a real opportunity for people to work together in a targeted way to make a real difference; research needs to work closely with governments, corporations, and individuals to co-design solutions, and have better measurement systems embedded in these institutions and daily life.”
Echoing the speakers of the panel discussion at the AVPN Global Conference, failure to address youth mental wellbeing gaps are detrimental, but there is hope: by integrating youth voices in solution-designing processes, getting top management buy-in through reframing youth mental wellbeing as an investment for the future workforce, and fostering cross-sectoral efforts for sustainable solutions, there is a role everyone can play in moving the needle towards mental resilience for young people.