Author: Fiona Samuels

Case studies: Some success stories

Some positive interventions for adolescents and young people can be found in some contexts and could be adapted for use elsewhere, or replicated and scaled-up. Many address the isolation that adolescents, and in particular adolescent girls, may be feeling often as a result of underlying discriminatory gender norms. They include various school-based programmes, such as the use of psychosocial counselling units in some schools in Viet Nam. Where these have been well applied, and accompanied by school support for parenting skills, these units have had positive results, as noted in Samuels et al. (2018) and Kieling et al. (2011)

Hotlines have also proved to be a vital resource for adolescents and young people facing stress and anxiety in many countries, including Bangladesh and Viet Nam, and have had similarly positive results. 

While the internet can lead to addictive behaviours and cause stress, it can also be a useful platform for the establishment of virtual (and often anonymous) support for adolescents and young people facing distress. For example, simple devices such as mobile phones have made a difference to the lives of young brides in Nepal who have married out of their natal area, as they are able to maintain some connection with their family and friends back at home. 

Given that mental ill-health and psychosocial distress are also driven by social and environmental factors, including gender norms, it is critical to think beyond any single focused or single-sector responses. Approaches that aim to empower girls (economically or socially) have been shown to lead them, in some cases, to challenge norms around early marriage). Similarly, girl clubs have been shown to be a positive tool for empowering girls. All of these approaches (and others) have instilled self-confidence, self-esteem and self-belief. This, in turn, has had a positive effect on girls’ mental health and psychosocial well-being. 

It is also important to raise the awareness of those who enforce norms (parents, parents-in-law, husbands, community elders) as well as key stakeholders in the broader service and policy environment on the critical role of gender norms in driving mental ill-health and psychosocial distress.  

Finally, programmes that keep girls in school, such as cash transfer programmes, as well as those targeting early marriage are critical not only for the promotion of gender equality and gender justice, but also to combat the mental ill-health and psychosocial distress that continue to affect so many adolescents in developing countries.