Risky sexual behaviors, and substance use worsen adolescent mental health struggles, warn experts

Risky sexual behaviors, and substance use worsen adolescent mental health struggles, warn experts
Some students speaking to the media

Experts have emphasised the critical need for unified action to combat risky behaviours such as substance abuse and unsafe sexual practices, which are significantly affecting the mental and physical well-being of adolescents.

These sentiments were echoed during the student-leaders conference, organized by the Uganda National Students Association (UNSA), held at the Wakiso Secondary School Head Teachers Association (WAKISSHA) Resource Centre. The conference, attended by over 2000 students from various schools, aimed to mentor and encourage leadership among the youth.

Representatives from schools including Namirembe Hillside High School, Airforce Secondary School Entebbe, Mount Of Olives Kakiri, and Kireka High School, among others, participated in the event.

Dr Rachel Beyagira, the Assistant Commissioner for Adolescent and School Health at the Ministry of Health, delivered a poignant message regarding the escalating health challenges facing young people nationwide.

She highlighted a disturbing increase in teenage pregnancies, emphasizing that these occurrences not only strain the health system but also endanger the prospects of young individuals.

Dr Beyagira expressed profound concern over pregnancies among girls as young as 10 or 12 years old, attributing these distressing circumstances to a lack of essential information and support networks.

"As a Ministry, we are spearheading campaigns aimed at raising awareness and engaging with communities, schools, parents, caregivers, and students themselves," Dr. Beyagira stated. "It is imperative that we address these pressing health issues disproportionately affecting our youth."

She underscored the pivotal role of schools and student leaders in collaborating with the Ministry to address risky behaviours and advocate for healthy lifestyles among adolescents. Dr. Beyagira emphasized the necessity for comprehensive sex education and accessible healthcare services to equip young people with the knowledge and resources needed to make informed decisions about their health.

She drew attention to the alarming contribution of young people to the rising rates of new HIV infections and other sexually transmitted infections. She stressed the importance of community involvement in tackling these challenges and urged for collective action to safeguard the well-being of vulnerable youth populations.

Julia Muhumuza, the Uganda representative to the Commonwealth Student's Association and founder of Teach, Mentor, and Educate, emphasized the detrimental impact of risky sexual behaviours and substance use among students and young people, highlighting their potential to lead to significant societal issues.

Muhumuza underscored the persisting rise in teenage pregnancies among young people, attributing it to ongoing exploitation and the lack of awareness.

She called for heightened awareness efforts, particularly focusing on sensitizing young girls to empower them with preventive measures.

"We must prioritize educating young girls," Muhumuza emphasized.

"When they are informed, they are better equipped to protect themselves. Parents, community leaders, teachers, government, and stakeholders all have a role to play in addressing these issues collectively,” she added.

Regarding the student conference, Muhumuza emphasized its significance in bringing together young leaders and connecting them with established leaders who serve as inspirations. She noted the importance of this connectivity in guiding youth towards assuming larger leadership roles in the future.

Rona Kwakunda, the General Secretary of Wakiso District UNSA and a student at Air Force Secondary School, Entebbe, emphasised the importance of continued sensitization through counselling and guidance. She called for government support in combating behaviours that jeopardize the future of young people.

Faith Kisakye, a student leader from Garden Gates Secondary School, suggested organizing programs focusing on mental health and sex education to address issues such as teenage pregnancies.

Kisakye emphasized lessons learned from the conference, including the acknowledgement that leadership is a divine calling and the importance of setting goals and organization in leadership roles.

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