Major steps taken in building youth mental health care capacity in the Maldives

Major steps taken in building youth mental health care capacity in the Maldives

14 June 2024

As a new front in Orygen’s strategic plan to build the youth mental health field globally, a team from Orygen, in partnership with the Australian High Commission and working with the Maldives Government, UNICEF, WHO Maldives and local partners, have delivered intensive mental health workforce training and participated in unprecedented and inspiring policy development activities in the Maldives.  

The program of events included a keynote lecture as part of the Villa College’s International Conference on Social Research and Innovation, and meetings with key stakeholders including WHO, UNICEF and a range of government ministers in the capital Malé. A major policy forum identified areas of consensus and strong interest in exploring further how mental health supports could be integrated into youth services. 

Made possible by the Australian High Commission and funded through the Australia Awards, the initiative was developed with Orygen Global, as part of its objective to support low- and middle-income countries and communities around the world to implement programs and supports that meet the mental health needs of young people locally. 

Momentum was built throughout the program to explore options to trial a small number of integrated youth mental health services on the ground in the Maldives.  

Orygen Executive Director Professor Patrick McGorry said Orygen has had a longstanding commitment to the Maldives, and it was inspiring to see real progress, after many years of patient efforts, through the collaborative approach being taken to developing new models of care. 

“The youth mental health crisis is a global problem, and communities around the world are coming together to better understand and tackle the issues, so young people everywhere have the support they desperately need,” Professor McGorry said.  

"Orygen is proud to be supporting our partners in the Maldives to develop youth mental health care initiatives, and we look forward to further sharing our service planning expertise and workforce development skills to ensure these services come to fruition.”  

Professor McGorry said the Orygen team was “blown away” by the power of the local community, with over 1,000 people attending the series of events in support of youth mental health. 

“It’s fantastic to see the leadership of the Kulhudhuffushi Government and the support from the Australian High Commission as we prepare to take transformative steps to address the mental health needs of young people in the Maldives,” Professor McGorry said.  

“We look forward to continuing our work with these passionate and engaged communities to help governments and communities design, implement and evaluate youth mental health services that make sense in the local context.  

“We are extremely grateful for the buy-in of the new government and key ministers, including the Minister for Health, and for the leadership and commitment of Australian High Commissioner, Mr. David Jessup, and his small and dedicated team in the Maldives.   

“Australia has a 50-year diplomatic relationship with the Maldives, and the many alumni of Australian universities across Maldivian society strengthens these bonds immeasurably.” 

Knowledge translation experts Dr Shona Francey and Helen Nicoll from Orygen also worked with the city council to design a ‘mental health camp’ for young people to build awareness, skills and connections to stay mentally well.  

Helen Nicoll said the program will be designed to help young people identify mental ill-health and seek support for anxiety, depression or other mental health symptoms.  

“Working together to develop this important program for the Maldives has been invaluable,” Nicoll said. 

“Orygen has been able to contribute mental health knowledge and experience, while the city council provided vital expertise on local context and the best approaches for engaging young people in this region. 

“Working with the council, community members and young people has been incredible, and we look forward to seeing the mental health camps supporting the community to thrive.”  

As part of the collaboration, two young people from the Maldives – Aishath Zara Athif and Raufa Mohamed – were supported to participate in the Orygen x ASEAN Youth Mental Health Fellowship program, where they will develop a proposal for change that reflects the needs of their local community. 

The Fellowship program will also equip the young people with the tools they need to continue effecting change in regional – or national – mental health policies and practices.