Opening my twitter account this morning, I noticed that one of the items trending was Exam Stress during Ramadan. This made sense to me; it being the start of Ramadan, as well as Mental Health Awareness Week. Not being a Muslim, but having a number of friends and colleagues within the community, made me think harder about how this time of the year impacts on young people especially. I know that many young people look forward to Ramadan as a time of reflection, a stock-take; of fellowship, of forgiveness and generosity to others. I couldn’t think of anything more challenging as a growing teenager than foregoing a meal, especially if this hits during exam time.

In general (and having worked with young people for a very long time), I have seen the trends in anxiety, depression and self-harm increasing quite dramatically. The Children’s Society‘s most recent Good Childhood report talks about how young people are the unhappiest they’ve ever been since 2010. It also shows that one million teenagers have seven or more serious problems in their lives. At a time of drastic Government cuts to funding for local children’s services, these findings are a deep cause for concern.

In many communities, I couldn’t see young people feeling comfortable talking about issues like pornography addiction, sexual abuse and drug addiction to their elders. These issues and challenges can potentially be even more pronounced and compounded in traditionally stigmitised or marginalised communities – the Muslim community being no exception. Everyday challenges which young people face might traditionally be considered taboo in faith or cultural contexts. Even just simple things like exams can cause a stress and anxiety that parents don’t often seem to understand or even empathise with.

During this time, it’s so important that these young people get the support they need, for whatever it might be that is affecting them. This couldn’t be more true for Ramadan, a joyful but often very difficult time for young people for a variety of reasons. This is one of the reasons I love charities like our client, Muslim Youth Helpline (MYH) . It provides e-mail, chat and phone support to young people going through difficult times and tough, complex experiences who often just need someone to listen.

In a recent press release about their new campaign ‘Ramadan Brain’, Zohra Khaku, Director of MYH stated that “no subject is out of bounds, and we don’t judge anyone. It’s important for our callers to know that we are there for them whatever their circumstances.”

MYH are in the process of finalising a report focused on young British Muslims’ Mental Health. The report demonstrates that the most common issues faced by young Muslims are anxiety, depression, exam stress and family issues. The majority of young Muslims surveyed feel they do not have enough easy access to help when they need it.

Charities like MYH play an important role in helping young people manage their mental health, due to the complex nature of issues they have to face as young people – everything from cultural pressures to negative perceptions of non-Muslim society. Young Muslims often refrain from asking for support as mental health issues still have a huge stigma attached to them in this community. As a result, these issues go unresolved and put these young people at risk.

As it is Mental Health Awareness Week, I’d like to give a shout out to charities like our clients, The Children’s Society and Muslim Youth Helpline, and others that do a great job in helping young people identify and overcome mental and emotional health challenges and promoting positive wellbeing. Please support them if you are able to, to help them to continue to assist young people who need it.

By Kirsten Naude