Interview by Daniel (he/him), 26 QLD
I hear from a young leader from the Philippines – in Part Two of my journey to amplify voices in the Asia-Pacific region.
The first thing you notice in India is the heat. I’ll never complain about summer in Australia again. The next thing you notice are the mozzies (mosquitos). But most of all – you notice the honking. A constant barrage of horns – an ever-present reminder of the crowded, manic streets that make up Chennai. And yet, traffic moves, and no one gets hurt.
Nine thousand kilometres from home, and four and a half hours in the past (relatively speaking), in a tiny part of this massive, sprawling, condensed city, young people from at-least 15 different Asia-Pacific nations are gathered to discuss issues – big and small. More importantly, we are here to develop solutions.
I’ve already written about the first of my interviews, with Gaurav. We discussed the importance of finding meaningful work in his community in India.
For the remainder of my first day, I did my best to meet as many young people as possible. I would try and catch the name of anyone and everyone who was willing to chat. There were so many friendly participants – all with interesting stories.
One such person was Hero Go – a young Filipino Chinese man from Manilla. The Philippines had a strong presence at the event, with several different Filipino communities represented.
Like so many others at the event, Hero has an impressive background. He is the founding member of a youth club in his city, and of a local youth board. He also sits on a national board – where he serves as their designated youth representative for the region. We quickly connected over our shared experience as ‘Youth Directors’ for our respective organisations.
Hero was difficult to miss – he was always engaged and asking questions. Good questions too – the kind of questions that take the recipient by surprise.
I wanted to hear more about his life – about his goals, experiences, and frustrations. I asked for 10 minutes of his time. Here’s what he had to say.
What has been your experience in India so far?
The experience has been very eye opening, and I have already become more appreciative of the things that I usually take for granted.
There are a lot of social issues that we’re experiencing. I’ve got to be more open, be more understanding of the situations across the region.
What is the number one issue affecting young people in your community?
I think the number one issue would be the lack of opportunities for employment. We need to raise our voices for our voices to be heard.
I think it comes down to several sub-issues – for example, equality. It also trickles down to mental health issues. A lack of opportunities can also trigger mental health issues.
Why do you think that is? You mentioned unemployment – what are the other causes for mental health issues in young people?
Well, mental health is an issue that stems from all sorts of different fronts. So, I guess the reality of each person is different from everyone else.
What would I say are the common causes? Poverty – in our context. Poverty and unemployment.
What do you think are some of the things that we can do to maybe help young people with mental health issues?
Number one is to educate more people about mental health issues and how we can fix them.
In our organisation we do a lot of fitness activities, where we try to try to keep them focused on other things. We also do counselling – we actually provide guidance and support.
We’re not the experts on this. Mental health is a very, very delicate issue. It is something that we do not want to meddle with, especially if we’re not experts. But something is better than nothing.
It’s about forming a connection – finding a home.
Finally, do you believe ‘community wellbeing’ and ‘good mental health’ is an achievable goal for young people within your community?
Not all aspects are doing well. Because, the reality is, we have so much on our plate, and we have to just focus on one thing at a time.
Right now, a lot of our resources are focussed on sustainability. We commit a lot to this because it’s something that we feel strongly about. And it’s an issue affecting our local community immediately – right now.
Already, we’re starting to connect threads. Hero, like Gaurav before him, mentioned ‘unemployment’ as a major issue affecting young people in his community.
Hero also made an important link between unemployment and a lack of meaningful work, and poor mental health. Young people who lack employment, or are unsatisfied with their employment, may be more prone to poor mental health – or may lack the means to find support.
And like unemployment, mental health is also an issue here in Australia. An alarming national study conducted by the Bureau of Statistics found that in Australia, 38.8% of people aged 16–24 years have a 12-month mental disorder.
Hero expressed that educating people about mental health was one of the ways we can address this issue. Unfortunately, mental health concerns continue to be stigmatised, particularly by older generations, as they are often a hidden ‘illness’.
It wasn’t surprising that Hero raised this as an issue. All young people, regardless of background, share similar concerns. We all have immense doubt about our future. We all face immense pressure to meet a certain level of education – and to meet certain societal standards. This frustration does not adhere to national borders – it is universal.
What concerns me most is the possible link between mental health and the overwhelming task of ‘fixing’ the planet. Not enough is being done to explore the mental health effects of climate change.
But what did surprise me was Hero’s response to the final question – when asked whether good mental health was an achievable goal. His answer was refreshingly honest – we would like to address this, but we have other priorities. When you have limited resources, you must focus on the immediate issues first – those things that are physically causing harm to our communities, our world, us.
Illustration by Aileen. You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenngstudio