UNICEF Jamaica and the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network are collaborating to host a two-day summit aimed at engaging adolescents and youth to gather their perspectives and recommendations for mental health and psychosocial support in Jamaica. Scheduled to take place from October 11 to October 12, the summit is strategically aligned with World Mental Health Day on October 10, which centers around the theme ‘Mental health is a universal human right’. The objective of the event is to raise awareness about mental health issues and drive positive change in the country.
By providing evidence-based perspectives on the mental health challenges faced by children and adolescents, particularly their struggle to access mental health services and psychosocial support, the summit aims to generate discussions about potential solutions, resource requirements, and the way forward. It also aims to highlight the impact of mental health issues on young individuals and engage decision-makers in discussions regarding the gaps in the existing mental health and psychosocial support systems available for children and adolescents, along with the necessary actions to address these gaps.
UNICEF Jamaica has identified the stress and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as a significant factor negatively impacting the mental health of adolescents and young individuals, which could potentially lead to a concerning increase in mental health problems. A study conducted by UNICEF and the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) in 2020, titled the Socio-economic Impact of COVID-19, revealed that a majority of households reported an increase in children experiencing boredom, overeating, frustration, clinginess, anxiety, and fear.
The closure of schools, separation from social groups, and the need for social distancing have had a profound effect on children and youths’ mental health, making it difficult for them to access peer support or necessary school-based/school-related services. Upon the return to school, there have been reports of increased behavioral problems among students, as indicated by teachers and school administrators, according to UNICEF. Vulnerable children, in particular, are at a heightened risk of being unable to access appropriate mental health and psychosocial support services.
Data from the National Children’s Registry in 2018 demonstrated an increase in reports of children exhibiting behavioral problems compared to the previous year. Of the more than 12,000 reports received that year, the most common incidents reported were children in need of care and protection, followed by cases of child neglect and children with behavioral problems. Disturbingly, there were also reports of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and emotional abuse.
UNICEF highlights the limited capacity within the public health sector as a significant barrier preventing adolescents from accessing counseling support and community-based mental health services. Additionally, issues such as community and family violence, stigma, and discrimination against individuals with mental health challenges further hinder the uptake of these services.
UNICEF Jamaica’s new Country Programme 2022-2026 aims to improve adolescents’ access to gender-responsive health services and reduce stigma surrounding mental health and risk-taking behaviors among adolescent boys and girls. This will be achieved by addressing harmful social norms, improving service accessibility and quality, and creating a demand for services among adolescents.
In conclusion, the upcoming summit organized by UNICEF Jamaica and the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network holds great promise in addressing the mental health and psychosocial support needs of children and adolescents in Jamaica. By engaging young individuals themselves and amplifying their voices, the summit aims to shed light on the challenges faced and carve a path towards improved mental health services and reduced stigma. It is crucial to prioritize mental health as a universal human right and provide adolescents with the necessary resources to support their well-being and personal development.