The COVID pandemic has shone a light on the opportunities to deliver health support and advice remotely, and in some cases digitally. One of the areas where this has been most important is in support for mental health and well-being, and our partnership with UNICEF has allowed us to extend and broaden an initiative that aims to tackle the island’s concerns about youth mental health and well-being.
In Jamaica, anxiety are leading causes of disability among 15-19 boys and 10-19 girls. Depressive disorders is a leading cause of disability for 15-19 boys. Among 15-19 year old boys, the prevalence of heavy episodic drinking is 19% while tobacco use was reported among over 15% of 13-15 year old boys and girls. Additionally, 24% of boys and 25% of girls reported being bullied in the past 30 days1.
In a series of polls about mental health designed by UNICEF, young people, and the Jamaica Ministry of Health, many young people expressed emotional distress but 90% feel mental health is not being taken seriously. Predominantly, Jamaican youth felt mental health is not being taken seriously because of misconceptions (41%), lack of information (24%), and cultural norms (36%)2.
There are only limited resources to deal with youth mental health challenges. The national ratio of psychiatrists to patients in 2015 was just 1:1,582 compared with international standards of 1:150; and that of community mental health officers/nurses to patients 1:306, compared to 1:50. In 2015 it was estimated that there were only eight to ten people in Jamaica then working extensively with children with mental health problems3.
In 2019 UNICEF and the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) worked together to send out text-based suicide prevention tips to users of UNICEF’s U-Report messaging tool using a tool that provided pre-programmed responses according to the choices made or information requested by the person who messaged it.
The support from the Young Health Programme partnership has enabled UNICEF to go much further in 2021 and expand and develop the approach to not only prevent suicide, but also promote mental well-being among young people. The helpline delivers mental health promotion and prevention information as well as allows for referral to referrals to further support and resources. Masters level students are trained as counsellors and supervised by an experienced counselling psychologist as helpline counsellors.
The chatline anticipates reaching 9,000 young people with information and support in 2021 and a 2-year transition plan is in place for the MOHW to take on the operational costs of the chatline service from its central budget. We hope that this initiative will provide useful lessons for improving youth mental health regionally and globally.
Image Credit: © UNICEF/UN0352056/Makyn
3. Caribbean Policy Research Institute/UNICEF, 2018, Situation Analysis of Jamaican Children, available at https://www.unicef.org/jamaica/media/546/file/Situation%20Analysis%20of%20Jamaican%20Children%20%E2%80%93%202018.pdf. Accessed 21 April 2021
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