Among Indonesian youth today, mental health is a major topic of health conversations, indicating a higher awareness of mental health issues compared to previous generations. A report by the British Council showed this through findings in its latest analysis of Indonesian youth, “Next Generation Indonesia” (2022). Illuminate Asia supported the UK based agency, 2CV by collecting qualitative, cultural and desk research data, supporting analysis and imparting local knowledge.
A major issue in Indonesia, mental health literacy correlates with widespread stigma and low levels of participation in mental health services. Indeed, in Indonesia’s diverse cultures, mental health is a taboo subject in which the silence surrounding it is passed down across generations all through the country. It is no wonder that superstitions are common and mental disorders are seen as a disgrace instead of something to treat based on clinical diagnosis.
Traditionally, it is common that parents of the older generation tend to be ignorant of mental health. In fact, parents have been known to add pressure on children, contributing to causes of mental breakdown among children—who generally have been instilled with a deep sense of duty toward their parents since a very young age. But this condition has started to change in the last few years.
The British Council’s report, based on a national survey of young people aged 16-35 across Indonesia—a segment that represents 32 percent of the total population—found that mental health emerged as the foremost health concern for them. More precisely, 48 percent of respondents stated that health is their biggest concern after employment, with mental health being a key concern among 25 percent of youth. In other words, one in four young Indonesians have concerns about mental health.
The growing conversations about mental health notably occur in big cities where young people talk more openly compared to their fellow youth in more rural and marginalized areas. However, the youth in these latter areas also spoke of feeling unhappy although not considering it a mental health issue.
The increased awareness of mental health among the youth can be attributed to three main influences: social media, social environment, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
As social media becomes an indispensable part of their daily lives, young people have been more exposed to information and education via their social media accounts. This exposure allows them to have access to other cultures where conversations around mental health happen more openly and is more normalized compared to their experience in Indonesia. TikTok seems to play a larger part compared to other social media platforms, with young people mentioning it in particular when it comes to mental health education and coping strategies.
At the same time, one area that becomes an increasingly challenging social environment is the employment landscape. Young people find that issues such as long hours of work, financial insecurity, and harsh competition have created stress. These have a direct impact on their mental well-being coupled with the fact that families sometimes are not supportive.
The third influence, the COVID-19 pandemic, has been a challenge for people of all age groups. Among the youth, online and social media interactions have been contributing to feelings of loneliness and isolation. In turn, these have led to conditions such as anxiety and depression.
With a higher awareness of mental health comes a higher need for mental health services. This is where the youth face another challenge. The British Council’s report also specified the lack of provision of such services, reporting that out of 9,000 primary care facilities throughout Indonesia less than 50 percent run with operational mental health programs. Furthermore, where services are available, the youth’s perception is that these are only available for extremely serious mental health conditions such as schizophrenia. Meanwhile, those who deal with anxiety and depression must find their own way of coping, with some of them resorting to social media for support and information. However, how to decide on credible content and correctness can become another issue as it is difficult to regulate the world of social media.
The proliferation of online clinical services, growing due to the pandemic, may provide some access to professional treatment. It is an encouraging development that psychologists’ associations and universities haven’t been idle, establishing channels of services through social media and the internet.
However, in the future, it is necessary that more changes should take place in mental health literacy to address better the problems of the youth. The British Council’s report has amplified young people’s voices regarding mental health, and the older generation must listen to them.