Today is International Youth Day, celebrating young people worldwide. This year’s theme is ‘Mental Health Matters!’ The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community” (WHO 2007).
One way HAS approaches mental health is by focusing on the ‘first 1,000 days’ – the time from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy until her child’s second birthday. During this period, proper nutrition in the mother and child lays a strong foundation for health – including mental health.
A lack of any necessary nutrients, including iron, iodine, or Vitamin A, can cause delays in brain and physical development, which may be irreversible. On the other hand, children who receive the proper nutrients within those crucial first 1,000 days are ten times more likely to overcome most life-threatening childhood diseases, complete 4.6 more grades of school, and earn 21% more in wages as adults.
HAS works in the hospital, community health centers, health posts, and in the homes of community members to seize the first 1,000 days as an opportunity to promote healthy physical and brain development in children and lay the foundation for a lifetime of good mental health.
Here are some of the ways that HAS is helping kids get a good, healthy start:
- Before birth, HAS staff members care for mothers with consultations and prenatal vitamins high in iron.
- HAS encourages exclusive breastfeeding (feeding the baby no other foods or liquids other than breast milk). When done exclusively for the first six months, meaning that no other liquids or foods are given to the baby, breastfeeding provides all of the nutrients that an infant needs to get a good start.
- As children get older, other vitamins are introduced into their diets to supplement what they are receiving from available foods. Our community health workers regularly distribute multivitamins, containing iron and other necessary nutrients, to roughly 10,000 children per month at rotating health posts.
- HAS begins a new project this fall, in collaboration with local schools and community institutions, in which all women between the ages of 14 and 49 will be provided with an iron/folic acid supplement. By reducing the risk of anemia of women in the community, HAS hopes to increase positive outcomes for infants and also reduce the risk of neural tube birth defects for babies.
Please join HAS in celebrating International Youth Day today by helping us to provide young children with the nutrients they need to realize their potential.