Pandemic of the mind

In light of the World Mental Health Day this year, a podcast series is making waves promoting well-being among Thai youth

A special episode of the Sound of Happiness features a group of adolescents, including a young mental health activist, youth with disabilities and LGBTI and stateless youth who shared their mental health challenges. (Photo: Bundit Chotsuwan)

More than seven in 10 young people in Thailand indicated that Covid-19 is affecting their mental health and causing stress, worry, and anxiety, according to a Unicef-led survey released in April. What is worrying youngsters the most is the uncertainty of their family's financial status, followed by worry about their education and future employment opportunities.

The novel coronavirus has not only sabotaged the world's economy and ruined the lives of adults but it also is wreaking havoc on children too. While it is normal for young people to feel anxious and stressed amid an outbreak, learning how to take care of themselves and others has never been more important than now.

To help young Thais heal their souls during hard times, renowned artists such as Peck Palitchoke, Bright Win, Milli among other celebrities recently joined "The Sound Of Happiness" campaign organised by Thailand's Department of Mental Health (DMH), Unicef, and JOOX Thailand. The celebrities opened up about their mental health struggles and shared their stories on a podcast, which aired on JOOX throughout the campaign period, which began in July. Like many young children, they too faced bullying, body shaming and relationship problems. However, they found the strength within to bounce back.

The podcast series aims to normalise mental health conversations for children and adolescents, especially since mental well-being is central to their health, development and capacity to learn and participate in society. Regular exposure to distressing experiences can have a lifelong impact on a young person's mental and physical health. As a result, they are more likely to engage in self-harm, alcohol and drug abuse, and risky sexual behaviour. The cost of mental health problems is not only personal but also societal and economic -- amounting to 4% of Thailand's GDP, as reported by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Past podcast episodes are available on JOOX's website, which allows users to listen to The Sound Of Happiness programme, which features six songs by leading Thai artists. Favourites among young listeners include Nai Lao (Let's Talk) by MILLI, Blacksheep and ATTA and Kor Kwam (Message) by O Wanyai, Zom Marie, Dew Better Weather, Toe Mirrr and ALLY with almost 3.5 million plays on Joox and 4 million views on YouTube, respectively.

Half of all mental health conditions start at the age of 15, however, these cases go mostly undetected and untreated, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports. According to the DMH, 800 people aged between 10-29 committed suicide in Thailand last year. However, young people can be remarkably resilient if provided the tools for mental wellness. Therefore, The Sound Of Happiness encourages young listeners to connect with a friend, parent or trusted adult about how they are feeling.

"Adolescent mental health is often overlooked," said Thomas Davin, Unicef Representative for Thailand.

"Most adolescents do not have access to information that can guide them to effectively manage their emotions or mental health. We wanted to create an informative and supportive environment while addressing negative perceptions around mental health so that young people would feel comfortable talking about challenges they face with their friends, family or someone they trust".

All children and adolescents are at risk of developing mental health problems, especially vulnerable youth who are facing poverty, discrimination and/or violence. In a special episode of the podcast featuring a group of young people, 15-year-old Prachaya Sirimahaariyapoya, 19-year-old Oo, 20-year-old Kamollug Tongdang and 21-year-old Ammarin Boonsaard break the silence on taboo topics and discuss statelessness, disability, sexual orientation and their experiences in seeking help.

"Being sad and depressed doesn't mean there is something wrong with you," said youth mental health activist Prachaya in Episode 12.

The podcast has helped many listeners start difficult conversations with themselves and others.

"For me, family is crucial for helping you get through tough times. So, talk to them and don't keep your problems to yourself," said listener and mother Nutch Choeyklinted, who won a behind-the-scenes peek of The Sound Of Happiness production set. Finding herself unemployed and overwhelmed during the pandemic, she turned to the podcast for positivity and guidance.

The campaign has also inspired listeners to share their own stories through The Sound Of Happiness essay contest to help those going through something similar.

"'The Significance Of Friends' episode with artist Peck Palitchoke resonated with me mainly because I have friends whom I care for similar to friendships which Peck shared," wrote listener Prodpran Sukcharoen in her essay.

"Recovering from the loss [of my friend in an accident], I found myself in artist Pearwah's shoes as she talks about the importance of bravery, resilience and patience when it comes to dealing with any issues in life.

"You are never alone to deal with the immense pain. Be patient -- with your body, your heart and your mind. Instead of thinking of what you could have done, take your time and think of what you can do, and what you should be doing now," she shared.

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