Mental health: my journey in advocacy
October 10, 2023

Mental health: my journey in advocacy

Author: Anghelina Severin

Mental health is a fundamental aspect of our well-being, encompassing our emotional, psychological, and moral state. It profoundly influences our thoughts, actions, stress management, and decision-making. On October 10th, as we observe World Mental Health Day, let’s explore the story of Anghelina Severin, one of our Young European Ambassadors from Moldova.

Childhood memories

I vividly recall the moment when I first felt compelled to speak up about my emotional well-being. It happened in a first-grade classroom, where I faced bullying from both teachers and classmates. I couldn’t understand why open-mindedness and diversity were treated as crimes. Little did I know that this would become a recurring theme, especially as a student in a Russian-speaking school. I remember discussing this injustice with my mother in the kitchen, feeling a sense of unfairness and disappointment. It was then that I realised that if I didn’t stand up to this pressure, other children would face it too. That’s when I first stood up for myself and understood that societal change begins with small actions. This was the birth of the activist voice within me. To put things into perspective, I was not alone in my experiences. According to 2018 UNICEF statistics, 60% of adolescents in Moldova had been involved in fights or experienced harassment in recent months.

Finding a community

After my experiences, I delved into psychology and mental health literature, which aided my personal development and allowed me to assist fellow teenagers in my circle. We often discussed various societal issues like violence, mental health disorders, and discrimination. However, we could not foresee the challenges of the COVID-19 era. During the pandemic, with the shift to online learning, I, as a social person, felt profoundly lonely and depressed. That was until I stumbled upon social media influencers who shared experiences similar to mine during quarantine. This inspired me to connect with like-minded individuals and contribute to our society. Thus, my journey began with volunteering, which eventually evolved into activism. My volunteering journey began with the American Spaces programme in Moldova, followed by involvement with local organisations and eventually, the Young European Ambassadors initiative. It was here that I understood the importance of being fully accepted, regardless of nationality, language, or religion, with the only criterion being one’s activism and progress. I always found moral support and willingness to help within this community.

National activism

A year ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Conference of Child Human Rights Defenders organised by the Ombudsman, where I was one of the speakers. During the conference, I raised concerns about bullying among children in schools, as well as instances of physical violence. At that time, I was already working on issues related to the mental and physical health of children, such as advocating for comprehensive sex education in Moldova, which directly contributes to a child’s holistic development. I also participated in surveys conducted by non-governmental organisations, focusing on children’s feelings of safety in schools, teacher-student relationships, and school bullying. Moreover, I organised the first meeting in Moldova between the Minister of Education and activists to address these issues.

International practices and activism

In the past year, I had the privilege of participating in and becoming a member of international organisations and conferences. For the first time in my life, I witnessed the presence of an “event safeguarding person” at the European Youth Parliament session in Trieste, Italy. This person was always available to offer assistance, especially in terms of mental well-being. Having experienced the emotional toll of multi-day conferences, I brought this practice back to Moldova and recommended it to all organisers of youth-focused events. Additionally, this spring, as a part of the Child Advisory Team of Child Rights Connect, a leading organisation in child rights advocacy, I attended a child-friendly conference in Switzerland celebrating their anniversary. I witnessed an entire area dedicated to children where they could relax, morally prepare, or simply spend time in a peaceful environment. It was the most extensive event I had ever seen where each child had their own supportive adult nearby to ensure their well-being. I have never felt more secure and at ease during such important events. Thanks to these conditions, I confidently delivered a speech highlighting the absence of protection mechanisms for child rights defenders in Moldova’s schools and society, often leading to moral violence. In the near future, I hope to focus more on mental health across various sectors in Moldova.

Advice and support

For young readers of this blog post, my advice would be to prioritise self-care, feelings, and interests. Two years ago, I couldn’t have imagined that I would turn my experience with depression into activism. Sometimes, it takes time to understand ourselves and heal, and communities of like-minded individuals can be invaluable in this journey.

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