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Mental health, psychosocial support youth summit set for October 11-12

Published:Monday | September 25, 2023 | 12:07 AMChristopher Serju/Senior Gleaner Writer

UNICEF Jamaica and Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network are set to host a two-day summit from October 11 to October 12 in Kingston at a venue to be decided, engaging adolescents and youths on their perspectives and recommendations on mental health and psychosocial support in Jamaica.

The summit which is timed to coincide with World Mental Health Day On October 10 under the theme ‘Mental health is a universal human right’ is about raising awareness of mental health and driving positive change for everyone’s mental health.

It will provide evidence-based perspectives on the mental health issues of children and adolescents, particularly their inability to access mental health services and psychosocial support and the impact thereof, as well as generate discussions about potential solutions, resources required, and the way forward.

The main objectives of the event will be to:

•Generate public awareness on the cross-cutting mental health issues affecting children and adolescents

•Engage decisions-makers in discussion on the gaps in the current mental health and psychosocial support available to children and adolescents and the key actions necessary

•Amplify the youth voice on mental health issues in Jamaica

POTENTIAL THREAT

According to UNICEF Jamaica, the stress and anxiety caused by the impact of COVID-19 has affected the mental health of adolescents and young people, making an ‘outbreak’ of mental-health problems a potential threat. It references a study on the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19, conducted by UNICEF and the Caribbean Policy Research Institute in 2020 which showed that most households reported increases in children’s level of boredom (63 per cent), overeating (57 per cent), frustration (42 per cent), clinginess (49 per cent), anxiety (23 per cent) and fear (21 per cent).

The impact of school closures, separation from social groups and social distancing has had a tremendous effect on children and youth mental health and their ability to access peer support or necessary school-based/school-related services. The return to school has been marked by reported increases in behavioural problems among students, from teachers and school administrators, according to UNICEF. It notes that vulnerable children and youth and children are at particular risk of failing to access relevant mental health and psychosocial support services.

In 2018, the National Children’s Registry saw an increase in reports of children exhibiting behavioural problems compared to the previous year. Of the more than 12,000 reports in that year, “the most reported type of incident in 2018 was children deemed to be otherwise in need of care and protection (35 per cent). This was followed by child neglect and children exhibiting behavioural problems (46 per cent)”. There were more than 3,000 reports of sexual abuse of children, in excess of 3,200 reports of physical abuse of children and 1,801 reports of emotional abuse.

“Adolescents are often unable to access counselling support and community-based mental health services, largely due to the limited capacity within the public health sector. Issues such as community and family violence, stigma, and discrimination against people with mental health challenges are also barriers to service uptake,” UNICEF points out.

One of the aims of UNICEF Jamaica’s new Country Programme 2022-2026 is to help ensure that adolescents have improved access to gender-responsive health services and to promote the reduction of stigma around mental health and risk-taking behaviours among adolescent boys and girls, by addressing harmful social norms, improving access to and quality of services and facilitating a demand for services by adolescents.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com