Chhimi Dema

About 50 Bhutanese youths are engaged in the Me For Myself (M4M) campaign that focuses on mental health and well-being.

The campaign also has youth participants from other South Asian countries.

Ayeshwini Lama, 23, co-founder of the campaign, said that M4M evolved from a campaign called “Live Now” which provided the platform for people to share their write-ups during pandemic times.

The campaign started in August last year after understanding that the pandemic had caused distress among people because they lost their livelihoods, Ayeshwini said. “With M4M, we focus on mental disorders and illness, how to cope with mental stress and improve mental health and wellbeing.”

She said that it is difficult to break the social norm that being mentally weak is a character trait.

M4M has three aspects – volunteer, mentorship and school ambassadors programme. However, since the schools in the region were closed last year, the school ambassadors programme could not be started.

Under the volunteer programme, the participants are given tasks to research topics such as eating disorders, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, nutrition, and mental health.

Participants create advocacy materials like posters, videos and podcasts that are archived on their website and shared on social media. In between the programme, webinars and interactive sessions are held.

This year, there were more than 350 volunteers for M4M from the regional countries and about 50 from Bhutan.

Karma Choezom, 23, a volunteer said that through M4M she got the opportunity to create media content on various issues surrounding mental health.

Although there are challenges to manage her time, she said, that she learned a lot.

“To bring change in how people view mental health, we have to talk about it and advocate on the issues without reservation,” she said. “M4M helped me look at mental health from various angles allowing me to think of different ways to deal with it.”

According to the World Health Organisation, half of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age but most cases are undetected and untreated. “Globally, depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents.”

Ayeshwini Lama said that the volunteers were given a free e-course after completion of the programme in three months.

“The takeaway from the campaign is the ability to network with others, get information regarding mental health and become aware of mental health policies of various countries,” she said.

Moreover, policy awareness provides a real-world scenario about what governments are doing and how youth can make the government pay more attention to mental health, she added.

The third volunteer programme is expected to start this winter.

Participation is open to all under the age of 30.

Karma Sangay Phuntsho, a volunteer, said that M4M gave a broader perspective on many issues regarding mental health, new information, and opportunities.

“Mental health is not just about depressive episodes and anxiety. But there is an entire range of issues, and the most important relief was that it can be treated,” he said.

He said that the elder generations are usually neglected while talking about mental health. “I came to realise that mental health should be talked about more.”

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk