Both Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (ASRHR) and mental health and well-being are essential components of adolescents and young people’s health and well-being. They are closely linked and a bidirectional relationship exists between them. This means that they can influence each other’s health outcomes in a positive or negative manner.
The World Health Organization defines mental health as the state in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community. Wellbeing is a broader psychological, emotional, social and economic construct that encompasses mental health, but recognizes the need for a holistic approach to wellness. Mental health and well-being occur on a continuum, from feeling completely well to feeling distressed to the point of experiencing a diagnosable mental health condition. Mental health and wellbeing are universal phenomena – each person exists at a point along the continuum at any given time of their life.
Mental health and ASRHR are interlinked in many ways, for example, early and unintended pregnancies can lead to emotional distress due to denial and societal rejection. A positive HIV status, gender-based violence or stigmatization of members of the LGBTIQ+ community can also have negative impacts on the mental health of a young person. And at the same time, mental health challenges can increase substance use and risky sexual behaviours, lower adherence to HIV treatment, and increase the risk of HIV transmissions and STIs.
Due to this interlinkage, the mental health of adolescents and young people is closely linked to the achievement of UNFPA’s three Transformative Results (TRs) by 2030, these being (a) ending preventable maternal deaths, (b) ending the unmet need for family planning, and (c) ending gender-based violence and harmful practices, including child marriage and female genital mutilation. In light of this, UNFPA in collaboration with Youth Connekt Africa (YCA) implemented by AfriLabs is launching the Mental Health and ASRHR HackLab, which will explore innovation as an approach to accelerating efforts towards achieving the three TRs and ensure protection and fulfillment of adolescents and young people’s rights. The HackLab will target young people who have aspiring innovative solutions that when taken to scale can make impactful change on the mental health and ASRHR of young people in the region.
The HackLab will also identify intermediaries including accelerators within UNFPA Country Offices (COs), incubators, investors, marketers etc, who can support young innovators to thrive and become leaders of societal change. The HackLab will identify innovators and connect them with technical support through UNFPA COs to assist them with aligning with UNFPA’s mandate to develop their innovative solutions in addressing issues related to mental health and ASRHR. This will help to raise awareness of the bi-directional interlinkages between mental health and ASRHR and help mitigate the consequences of both negative mental health and ASRHR outcomes in adolescents and young people.
This HackLab will be an avenue for UNFPA to facilitate opportunities for young people to innovate and create solutions on SRHR while creating jobs for youth.