The New Battlefront: Addressing Youth Substance Abuse

In these pressing times, a worrisome aspiration that grips Bhutanese parents is the dread that their children may fall into the abyss of substance abuse, thereby staining their family’s reputation with the taint of addiction. This fear, though understated, mirrors the poignant message shared by His Majesty The King during the National Day, 2022, address, underscoring the burgeoning issue of drug and alcohol misuse, especially among the younger generation.

Such a diminutive expectation of our youth starkly contrasts the grand aspirations we hold for our nation. It’s a telling sign that even as we strive to be the “creme de la creme,” some of our citizens are struggling to maintain basic life necessities, such as mental health, an unequivocal barometer for societal well-being. Yet, it also points to a practical approach, wherein we are acknowledging and addressing our immediate concerns.

This disconcerting scenario unfolds at a time when mental health problems are proliferating worldwide, leading to individuals feeling increasingly alienated from their homes, families, and native lands. External decisions and global trends seem to hold sway over numerous lives, causing disruption and chaos.

In this regard, the establishment of PEMA by Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen, designed to streamline previously disjointed mental health initiatives, is a milestone of immense significance. The overarching objective of PEMA to promote mental well-being holds immense promise. If successful on a nationwide scale, it will resonate with His Majesty’s persistent counsel to translate plans into meaningful action.

During PEMA’s recent symposium, now slated to be an annual event, pivotal questions were addressed. Delving into the mechanics of addiction, the social implications of stigmatizing individuals, the integral role families play in societies often overly reliant on official institutions, and the efficacy of peer support mechanisms such as “Narcotics Anonymous” and “Alcoholics Anonymous” which have shown promising results globally.

The conversation underscored critical insights. Self-help, albeit crucial, must be complemented with a broader understanding that triumphs are not solitary achievements. Addiction can be both prevented and treated. Punitive measures are not the answer; rather, assistance and support for addicts is the need of the hour. Incarceration of numerous young people has exacerbated the issue rather than resolving it.

While financial constraints often impede access to medical treatment and medications for millions worldwide, Bhutan offers these services free of charge. This accomplishment owes much to the backing from the highest echelons of our society. Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen’s personal recognition of those who have triumphed over addiction, and those contributing towards this fight, was not just a symbolic gesture, but a powerful statement of support.

Bhutan’s recent celebrations spotlighted two different kinds of heroes. Some, like our athletes at the Special Olympics in Germany and our national basketball team, make us swell with pride. Others, like those recovering from addiction, inspire us and make us feel good. Hearing the poignant narratives of children, victims of adult manipulation, trapped in addiction, and their subsequent journey to sobriety, was truly uplifting.

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