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In recent times, the mental health and well-being of youth activists have come under scrutiny due to the multiple crises they face, including the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustices, climate change, and other social challenges. While activism can offer empowerment and hope, it also exposes activists to mental and
physical risks.

In the recent run-up to the General Elections in 2021, widespread protests were held after Bobi Wine, a Ugandan Presidential aspirant, was arrested. More than 50 demonstrators were reported dead, and many others were injured due to the skirmishes with security forces. This catastrophic disaster was damaging to the public, as its effects were widely televised on social media. The images of the violence shocked the world and the social activists involved.

These recent deaths of people affected by and actively working in social justice movements – have renewed the conversation about how activists have to work to protect their mental health as they work to protect the rights of their communities. Social activism work is overwhelming, and it’s compounded by not feeling safe most of the time. Sustained, long-term activism can take a detrimental toll on activists’ mental health.

The current landscape of activism places youth in precarious situations, balancing their passion for change with the toll it takes on their mental health. The world of social justice activism is overwhelming, and the lack of safety adds to the burden. The dialogue around protecting activists’ mental health is gaining momentum, as they face challenges such as burnout, guilt, and neglecting self-care due to time-consuming activism.

Burnout, vicarious trauma, and the pressure to do more can take a toll on the mental health of social activists. Also known as spillover effects, people are most often indirectly or vicariously exposed to social injustices via victimized relatives or friends, through discussions about these events with social contacts, by watching television, listening to the radio, reading the newspaper, or more recently, using
social media.

The death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, 2020, rocked the USA and shocked the world. By June 5, videos related to George Floyd and BLM had been shared over 1.4 billion times on Twitter alone. The death of George Floyd and the unrest that occurred after likely contributed to widespread psychological distress across the globe.

More frequent exposure to traumatic events online, such as a viral video of police brutality, is associated with higher levels of PTSD and depressive symptoms. Social networking platforms have become powerful tools for activism. The death of George Floyd and the subsequent #BlackLivesMatter movement have demonstrated the mobilizing force of social media.

While youth activists are at the forefront of driving social change, their mental health needs must not be overlooked. Promoting self-care, providing mental health resources, and acknowledging the impact of vicarious trauma are essential steps in nurturing mentally conscious and healthy activists. By creating a supportive and compassionate environment, we can ensure that activists are equipped to continue their important work for the long term.

Key Considerations on the Podcast

  1. How has the recent surge in social justice movements impacted the mental health of youth activists, and what are some common challenges they face in this context?
  2. In the age of social media, how does frequent exposure to traumatic events online affect the mental health of activists, and what can be done to address these challenges?
  3. How can we raise awareness about the mental and emotional toll that sustained activism can take on individuals and communities in Uganda?
  4. What are some effective self-care practices that activists can adopt to prevent burnout and prioritize their mental well-being?
  5. The COVID-19 pandemic has added additional stressors to the lives of activists. How can we build resilience and support mental health during times of crisis?
  6. What role can social media platforms play in promoting mental health awareness and providing resources for activists?
  7. What steps can organizations and communities take to ensure that mental health resources are readily available and accessible for activists?
  8. How can activists overcome the guilt and emotional burden associated with taking time for self-care and mental health while there is urgent work to be done?
  9. Are there any successful models or initiatives from around the world that have effectively addressed mental health concerns within social activism movements?
  10. How can we address the stigma surrounding mental health within activist communities and create safe spaces for open discussions?

About the Civic Art Talk Series

The #Civic Art Talks are curated by KQ Hub Africa and the Podcasters-in-Residence (Media Challenge Initiative). The podcast series is now in its 4th Episode out of a four-part series.

These episodes cover topics on civic engagement, debating issues on youth political participation, civic education, the agency of the arts and culture, creative approaches to innovation, and what it means to live in a fast-changing country (Uganda). The #Civic Art Talks series is curated in collaboration with key
stakeholders (at the confluence of the creative arts and civic space).

Objectives of the Podcast Dialogue

  • To facilitate civic dialogue among the youth and foster understanding, framing of social issues in Uganda
  • Create safe spaces for young people to hold each other accountable, connect with their leaders, and practice the best governance models.
  • Share inspiration for what individuals can do in their community both now, and into the future to be better global citizens.