Over the past year, 68% of young people have seen their mental health deteriorate due to the lockdown and restrictions imposed to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only have schools, colleges and universities been closed, basic freedoms such as meeting friends and family, or going out for a coffee have been removed.
It is evident from a study completed by the charity Mind that these restrictions have negatively impacted the psychological wellbeing of millions of young people. Alongside the uncertainty with examinations and future career plans, Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2015) has been plunged into crisis after crisis during the course of the pandemic.
However this Mental Health Awareness Week, Savera UK Youth has chosen to focus not on youth mental health post-COVID, but the long-term psychological impacts that harmful practices have on the lives of those affected.
Various studies show that harmful practices such as forced marriage negatively impact a person’s mental health in almost all cases.
Indeed, when Savera UK Youth member Maryam interviewed forced marriage survivor, Naila Amin, about her experience, she said: “’I just wanted to get it over with, I was ready to die. Now you know why I have anxiety now.”
Most people subjected to harmful practices experience horrifying amounts of domestic violence, ranging from sexual to physical abuse. Rape is also commonplace in various forced marriages. Of the estimated 20,000 rape cases that take place each year in Britain, there is one person behind each case who is forever subjected to a life of psychological torment.
Many survivors struggle with sex and relationships later on in life and with only 3.3% of rape cases resulting in a conviction, survivors often have to live with the knowledge that their rapist is free.
In March, the government announced a £500 million Mental Health Recovery Plan, with an additional £38 million funding for talking therapies within the NHS. This is a hugely positive step, yet similar levels of funding are not being found for those at risk of harmful practices, which is why we are shining a light on the issues this Mental Health Awareness Week. Harmful practices can destroy a person’s life and mental wellbeing. Without adequate support, some may never recover.
Written by Maryam Rana, Chair of Savera UK Youth (from April 2021)