YAM is a culturally sensitive programme for 14 – 16 year olds promoting increased knowledge about mental health through dialogue and play. Youth learn from each other and are encouraged to practice empathy and solidarity.
YAM offers a hands-on approach to mental health issues such as stress, crisis, depression and suicide. The programme spans over five sessions with three role-play workshops at the core. In YAM youth are considered experts of their own mental health and their voices and experiences take centre stage. Role-play and reflection stand at the core of the program as the youth play out and discuss a wide variety of feelings, solutions and outcomes. Cognitive, emotional and experiential learning in YAM help youth to explore problem solving and encourages solidarity and how they can help peers in need. Additionally, YAM provides a guide that helps youth connect with local mental and general health resources as well as organizations who work with youth rights and empowerment in their communities.
In YAM, scientific assessment of mental health and risk are not pitted against the everyday experiences and meanings the participating youth give to their experiences. Instead everything is up for discussion in a rich and context-based programme. YAM attempts to put youth in focus, not for being in or of trouble, but instead emphasises reflection in the present moment. By focusing on the problems important to the participating youth, YAM invites debate and a more fluid approach to mental health topics through role-plays picked and enacted by the youth.
Mental health is inseparable from physical health and both are intrinsically linked to human rights. Poor mental health can affect the wider health and development of children and adolescents. In a report about the prevention of mental disorders, the World Health Organization (WHO) draws attention to the stigma, discrimination and human rights violations that individuals and affected families suffer. Culturally sensitive and well-targeted prevention efforts can do a lot to alter how mental health is perceived and thus slowly change the conversation about such issues in society.
YAM was created with the heterogeneity of youth in mind. Its flexible core allows for the contextualization of youth in social, political and relational contexts depending on when and where the programme is carried out. Based on empathy building and finding solutions as a group, the YAM youth reflect and analyse their actions through play and dialogue. Through the discussion of different perspectives on problems, the participants learn that they as individuals are not alone responsible for solving their problems, but that they can together help each other to feel better. Identifying mental health resources in the community and connecting individuals and schools with such organisations, YAM offers support after the programme ends.
At the outset of the programme, all participants are given a booklet and posters are hung around the room both with themes covering the following topics:
1) Awareness about Mental Health
2) Self-help advice
3) Stress and crisis
4) Depression and suicidal thoughts
5) Helping a troubled friend
6) Getting advice: who to contact.
A certified YAM instructor guides the youth through these themes in one lecture and through dialogue and role-play.
The first meeting with the youth is a mix of an ice-breaker and a lecture introducing them to what mental health is and why it is important. They discuss different mental health problems and possible ways to feel better. The content of the lecture and role-plays comprise the same information as can be found in the booklet given to all participants.
The following three sessions are interactive role-play workshops in which the youth explore a range of different scenarios. YAM uses a few different types of role-play techniques, allowing the participants to explore decision-making, expression of feelings both verbally and non-verbally and practice listening to and supporting others. Supervised role-play is an excellent tool for teaching coping tactics and for adolescents to learn from their peers’ perspectives and experiences. The role-play promotes self-efficacy and teaches the youth to become aware of how different situations make them feel and how their actions have consequences. The youth are taught that there are many possible ways to feel better and that there is not one solution to any given problem. Specific problems faced by youth such as fighting with parents or parents fighting, reasons for and consequences of skipping school as well as bullying from peers as well as teachers is discussed without judgement, giving the youth room to approach these situations as they see fit. The youth practice both to listen and to speak about depression and suicidal thoughts. They actively practice listening to their peers’ perspectives and standing up against peer pressure.
The fifth session acts as a closure of the YAM programme by carefully recapping what has been discussed in the previous weeks encouraging the youth to actively participate while also directing their attention to where and how they can find help if needed.