4. Some success stories, but more is needed

Some positive mental health and psychosocial interventions exist in some contexts for adolescents and young people and could be adapted to different contexts and/or replicated and scaled-up. Many of these interventions address the isolation that adolescents, and in particular adolescent girls, may be feeling often as a result of underlying discriminatory gender norms. Thus approaches often focus on addressing this isolation and include various school-based programmes, for example, the use of psychosocial counselling units in some schools in Viet Nam which have had positive results if done to high standards and the provision of parenting skills through the school environment (see Samuels et al forthcoming; see also Kieling et. al., 2011). Additionally, telephone hotlines have been a vital resource for adolescents and young people in many countries (e.g. Bangladesh, Viet Nam) facing stress and anxiety and similarly have had positive results. While the internet can lead to addictive behaviours and can cause stress, it can also be used as a platform for establishing virtual (and often anonymous) support for adolescents and young people facing distress. For instance, simple devices such as mobile phones have also made a difference to the lives of young brides in Nepal married out of their natal area as they are able to contain to maintain a connection with their family and friends back home.

Given that mental ill-health and psychosocial distress is also driven by social and environmental factors, including gender norms, it is critical to think beyond single focused or single sector responses. Thus approaches for empowering girls (also economically) have been shown in some cases to result in them challenging norms around early marriage); similarly, girl clubs have been shown as a positive tool for empowering girls.  All of these approaches (and others) have instilled self-confidence, self-esteem and self-belief which in turn have had a positive effect on girls’ mental health and psychosocial well-being. Awareness raising activities amongst norm enforcers (parents, parents-in-law, husbands, community elders) as well as key stakeholders in the broader service and policy environment of the critical role of gender norms in driving mental ill-health and psychosocial distress, are also critical.  Finally, programmes keeping girls in schools[1] as well as those targeting early marriage[2] are critical to not only promote gender equality and gender justice, but to also combat mental ill-health and psychosocial distress which continue to affect many adolescents in developing country contexts.

[1] E.g.  https://www.malala.org/brookings-report/keep-girls-in-school-through-secondary
[2] E.g.  https://plan-international.org/sexual-health/child-marriage

Sri Lanka girls
© Nirojini/ODI, Sri Lanka, 2014