Expert assistance provided to young people across the Western Balkans as part of Regional Program of Local Democracy in the Western Balkans 2 (ReLOaD2)
The World Mental Health Day, October 10th, is being celebrated to raise awareness of the importance of investing in a system of support for mental health preservation. Today this support is particularly focused on vulnerable categories of the population still struggling with the consequences of Covid-19, which was also recognized by the project ReLOaD2, which in collaboration with local authorities support civil society organizations to provide better services to citizens in local communities. It is funded by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
ReLOaD2 has supported several projects in the Western Balkans aimed at strengthening the mental health of children and young people. Professional assistance has thus reached those environments where children and young people have not previously had the opportunity to participate in programs aimed at improving the quality of their lives.
In the Municipality of Budva in Montenegro, a project called “Budva za svu djecu” (Budva for All Children), implemented by the Association of Parents of Children and Youth with Developmental Disabilities, enabled many children and youth with developmental disabilities to participate in professional workshops that help them in development and social inclusion for the first time. Psychological experts, defectology experts, speech therapists and physiotherapists have been working intensively with a total of 30 children and young people from Budva and Petrovac, aged 3 to 27.
President of the Association “Puževa kućica” (Snail House) Nataša Anastasov explained that the workshops would last for three months, and that the goal was to empower children and young people with developmental disabilities and their parents to deal with environmental prejudices and everyday challenges. A big advantage was that representatives of local institutions from Budva were involved in the project to learn about the steps for inclusion of socially disadvantaged groups.
“The importance of mental health is enormous, especially for vulnerable categories of children and young people in today’s circumstances of uncertainty and major challenges for all of us. Therefore, we need to develop the awareness of the local community and representatives of relevant institutions about the right to equal participation of all children in social processes,” said Ms. Anastasov.
She added that children and young people with developmental disabilities and their parents had further isolated themselves from society during the Covid-19 pandemic, which in turn had damaged their mental health. Therefore, the Association “Puževa kućica” (Snail house) had prepared psychological workshops for both children and parents.
“I think that without an empowered family, children and young people with disabilities and developmental difficulties cannot achieve their full potential. It is necessary to work intensively with parents, provide them with support, and relevant information on rights in the field of health care, social benefits, education and employment”, said Ms. Anastasov.
Ms. Vera Pajović from Budva, whose daughter participates in workshops, pointed out that projects such as “Budva za svu djecu” (Budva for all children) make children and young people with developmental disabilities and their parents feel part of society and community.
“Project activities enrich the lives of young people and children with developmental disabilities, but also their parents. Parents get to know each other, exchange their experiences, and children spend quality time together,” said Ms. Pajović.
She said that professional programs aimed at improving the quality of life of children with developmental disabilities had not previously been available in Budva.
“It was all about the individual work of parents with children, that is, their personal struggle to improve the quality of their child’s life, and this depends to a great extent on living standards, various mental barriers, but also the ability of parents,” said Ms. Pajović.
At the other end of the Western Balkans, in the City of Bihać in Bosnia and Herzegovina, more than 60 young people participated in psychological and career counselling, as part of the ReLOaD2 project. The opportunity for quality work with experts was presented to them in mid-2022 when the Association “Mreža informalnog obrazovanja” (Network of Informal Education) began implementing the project “Psychological and Career Counselling for Youth”.
“It is necessary to eliminate prejudices towards psychological counselling, since dealing with psychopathology is only one of many aspects of psychological counselling, and it can help any man to improve his health, well-being, productivity and quality of life,” said Mr. Demijan Kosatica, president of the Association “Mreža neformalnog obrazovanja” (Network of Informal Education).
Psychologist Nejra Nesimović, who conducts counseling in Bihać, said that she had recognized symptoms of anxiety, depressed mood and decline in motivation in young people. Psychological counseling had helped them to open up and share their feelings, and thus take care of themselves.
“Young people are lonely and often left to their own devices. Most schools don’t have psychologists, and school educators are overwhelmed with administrative tasks. We must start from ground up to establish a healthy nation. One sentence that motivates me to do my best, constantly learn and fight for the preservation of mental health is the sentence of a high school student: “I love coming here because you bring out the best in me”, concluded Ms. Nesimović.
The importance of adolescent psychological counselling was also recognized by the Association of Citizens “Šansa” (Chance) from the city of Požarevac, Serbia, which will soon start implementing the project “Psycho-social counselling for young people”. The project will provide psychological assistance for 40 adolescents with growing-up problems, as well as seminars for local decision makers on the topic of psychological counselling services.
The representatives of the Association of Citizens “Šansa” (Chance) said that the intervention of a professional in adolescent age could provide young persons with the necessary support, and thus reduce unwanted social phenomena such as domestic violence, alcohol abuse and psychoactive substances at the community level.
By carrying out activities throughout the Western Balkans region, ReLOaD2 has contributed to strengthening the mental health of young people, but also other sensitive categories of the population. In the future, the project activities envisage additional programs dedicated to the preservation of the mental health of the population.
ReLOaD2 is a EUR 12,63 million worth initiative, which lasts from 2021 to 2024. Its objective is to strengthen participatory democracies and EU integration in the Western Balkans by empowering civil society and encouraging young people to actively take part in the decision-making process, and by improving a supportive legal and financial environment for civil society.