A lot of activists are standing for mental health and wellness. The youth, especially, standing for fellow youth is a pace worth cheering. So many young people are recognising the gravity of this issue today and are grabbing the bull by the horn. Liliane Niyigena, the founder of Mentale, says the global population’s mental health is more critical now than ever due to different challenges we are facing like Covid-19 pandemic, economic crises, wars, conflicts, among other issues. Mentale is a platform which raises mental health awareness and provides online assistance and, or in-person, screening, and diagnosis of mental health disorders. Lillian Niyigena’s platform raises mental health awareness. Photos/Courtesy “Mental health issues like suicide, depression, drug abuse and others have been increasing progressively in both young people and adults, and it’s upon us to see to it that this is addressed,” she says. Also, since her educational background is in mental health, Niyigena thought it worthy to put her skills and knowledge to use and benefit society. She is a professionally registered mental health nurse. When starting this platform, she wanted to provide mental health information and services and have them accessible anywhere, anytime. For example, her project aims at helping youth in schools to understand more about mental health and get all basic information on mental health, mental illness and how to help themselves or other students who are having mental health issues as first aid before getting professional help. “This project focuses on young people’s mental health awareness. I thought about it because I have always been passionate about children, adolescents and young people’s mental health. Also, nowadays, young people are documenting a higher number of mental health issues, so helping my fellow young brothers and sisters would be my great achievement,” she says. Mental health, not a western concept The activist says that there is need to shift our mind-sets and understand the gravity of the threat posed by the mental health crisis. “Some people think of mental health as a western concept and not an African illness. This is because of our past culture where most of our ancestors thought that mental illness was mostly related to witchcraft or demonic possessions. Changing those past perceptions or beliefs has been hard, but it is a journey. I think we need more people in the mental health sector and government institutions to contribute more in the promotion and awareness, so as to reach as many Rwandans as possible,” she says. Niyigena notes how important it is that everyone understands that most people fight with mental health at one point or another, and so, it shouldn’t be something to be mortified about. “First of all, I want people to know that we all are challenged by mental health, and that it is as important as physical health. We should seek help for anxiety or depression just like we do for malaria or colds. Also, it is important for everyone to get basic information on mental health for better mental health wellness, stigma prevention and seeking help,” she shares. In order for her project to impact many young people, she has been visiting schools to reach as many youth at once. “We are providing them with mental health information that is applicable in their daily life and can be used to help others too.” She plans on establishing this programme in a vast number of schools in Kigali and upcountry, and strategises to make it a continuous programme that will not only include general educational sessions, but also more professional individual support to students with different mental health issues.