Photo from UNDP's Youth Climate Action Camp held in July, 2019


How the pandemic is affecting young people in Bhutan

COVID-19 is taking a toll on mental health of everyone, everywhere. Financial stress, social isolation, and constant fear of personal health are impacting public psyche significantly. Young people in particular are seeing their mental health deteriorate as the pandemic continues to disrupt labour markets. According to the International Labour Organization, more than one in six young people have lost their jobs since the onset of the crisis.

In Bhutan, youth unemployment kept the nation awake at night even before COVID-19. The pandemic dealt a serious blow to Bhutan’s efforts to create jobs for its growing youth population. In addition, thousands of young people who were working in the tourism sector lost their jobs after the crisis brought the country’s tourism to a standstill.

The crisis has been equally stressful for young Bhutanese working overseas. Many of them are from economically disadvantaged families, routinely sending remittances to their families back home. After the pandemic hit, many choose their health over work and returned home, increasing the financial vulnerability of both themselves and their families. As many as 10,000 young people who are back home now have no job or definite plans for the future.

There is another young group hit hard by the pandemic: Youth with Substance Use Disorders (SUDs). For them, the crisis is jeopardizing their recovery and wellbeing. According to the National Mental Health Response data released on 2nd July 2020, there are an estimated 365 young people, aged 19 – 35, battling drug addiction. A recent assessment by the YDF’s Bhutan Institute of Wellbeing shows that young people with SUDs often come from broken families and lack the support system.

Recent media reports suggested a spike in the number of young people visiting the Psychiatric Ward of the national referral hospital in Thimphu as the pandemic continues to spread. In the last six months, the hospital saw nearly 900 new cases of anxiety disorder, depression and substance abuse among others.


A holistic approach to tackling youth unemployment, mental health issues and SUDs

Unemployment, mental health and substance abuse are connected issues.  The YDF-UNDP project focuses on providing end-to-end support through rehabilitation, reintegration, reskilling and networking opportunities.

The project will provide two models of interventions for two different target groups, both in the age group of 19-35. The first group is young people with SUDs. This group includes young people who require rehabilitation and treatment, and those who require aftercare services. The second target group is young people who have returned from overseas and are in need of mental health care and wellbeing support.  The interventions will directly benefit about 500 young men and women.  

The project “Addressing the Needs of Young People Through Rehabilitation, Reintegration, Reskilling, and Networking” is supported by UNDP. It is part of UNDP’s COVID-19 response and recovery project “Towards a Smarter, Greener and More Resilient Recovery through Innovation in Bhutan” funded by the Government of Japan. UNDP and YDF launched the project on 10 August.

The project will work with various stakeholders, such as the Ministry of Health, Loden Foundation, Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority and Chithuen Phendey Association to rehabilitate, reintegrate and reskill affected young people.


YDF's Institute of Wellbeing is located in the outskirts of capital Thimphu


GNH inspired rehabilitation and treatment

People who require rehabilitation & treatment program: This group will undergo a three-month residential rehabilitation and treatment at the Bhutan Institute of Wellbeing. The holistic Gross National Happiness (GNH) inspired treatment and rehabilitation program is known as the “Happiness Model”. This tested and tried treatment approach incorporates mindfulness and meditation, family therapy, nature-guided therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, pharmacotherapy, and more. 


GHN Journeys

Young people who need after care services: This group will consist of young people who have undergone rehabilitation and treatment program and are in need of further support for reintegration into mainstream society. They will be introduced to a two-week residential program centered on GNH Journey at the Bhutan Institute of Wellbeing.

Online counselling services will be provided to support their reintegration into mainstream society. Online counselling will be delivered based on standard counselling for known disorders and on case identification, which is focused on individual need basis. 

Returning young BhutaneseMany young people who are back home from overseas due to pandemic are going through mental distress. The project will introduce them to the two-week residential GNH Journeys.


Reskilling and Upskilling

Bhutan Youth Development Fund’s Innovate Bhutan Centre for social and business innovation will co-create innovative social projects and businesses, guided by the four principles – called as the ‘Four Is’ – 1) Intermediary Dot-Connection, 2) Innovation, 3) Investment, and 4) Impact. To further enhance their employability, the Innovate Bhutan Centre will partner with Loden Foundation, to provide entrepreneurship opportunities. 


Changing Lives

The Bhutan Institute of Wellbeing has rehabilitated over 2500 young people with SUDs since its inception in 2004. It has also touched the lives of over 3000 people with SUDs through its two Drop-in Centres in Thimphu and Bumthang. This project is looking to transform the lives of 450 young people with SUDs and mental health issues in the face of COVID-19 pandemic. The project seeks to enable these young people to start afresh by helping them overcome addiction, rebuild their lives and equip them with employability skills.

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