Only one psychiatrist for every 42,000 young people

Youth workers who are often in contact with the most vulnerable groups could be particularly effective providers of mental health support.

Every year, around 90 children and young people take their own lives in Serbia, and data derived from the latest Alternative Report on the Position and Needs of Youth in Serbia 2023 indicate that even two-thirds of young people in our country often feel stressed, half of them have symptoms of anxiety, and nearly 40 percent say they often feel depressed.

A study conducted on a representative sample of individuals aged 15 to 30 also shows that mental health services are largely inaccessible to members of the younger generation—although the majority of them are aware of the importance of mental hygiene, only four percent of young people say they have access to professional mental health support.

The impression of young people is supported by official statistics which indicate that there are only 47 doctors specializing in mental health for children and adolescents up to 25 years of age in our country. Data also shows that there is one psychiatrist for every 42,000 young people, and only a small number of adolescents can afford psychotherapeutic services.

These are just some of the reasons why a team of psychologists developed the “Handbook for Youth Workers on the Topic of Youth Mental Health” (in Serbian: Priručnik za omladinske radnike i radnice na temu mentalnog zdravlja mladih). As explained by psychologist and co-author Ana Milak in an interview for our newspaper, the handbook is actually intended for everyone who is in professional contact with young people and is motivated to provide them with psychological first aid and support, but lacks the necessary knowledge in psychology. She reminds us that youth workers are professionals engaged in civil society organizations, institutions, and local government, whose task is to help young people develop competencies in various areas through different programs and projects, strengthen their self-confidence, and help them acquire so-called soft skills necessary to navigate both professional and personal environments. This handbook, which was developed after a year of intensive work, provides a theoretical framework and well-designed workshops that offer precise guidelines for developing emotional intelligence, self-awareness, literacy, empathy, and skills in accepting one’s own and others’ thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and reality.

“Youth workers, who work directly with young people and often interact with those who are most vulnerable, could be particularly effective providers of mental health support. However, this handbook is also intended for teachers, trainers, and peer educators who are in contact with young people. This does not mean that everyone who works with young people should be concerned about their mental health, as not everyone is qualified or should undertake this role. However, we believed that individuals in professional contact with young people should understand how the young people function emotionally. For those who wish to help, we have provided appropriate know-how and a set of skills so they can effectively respond to their needs and provide psychological first aid. The goal of this structured program is to train young people, primarily those at risk, to better manage their emotions, expand their repertoire of communication skills, and acquire new knowledge and skills to develop a healthy relationship with themselves and others,” our interlocutor explained.

Ana Milak emphasized that this handbook has been distributed to all youth organizations and can be freely downloaded from the Inprocess website.

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