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Band-Aids on bullet

Jhanile A. BROOKS

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

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WITH all the recent discussions about mental health, young people, suicide and suicidal hotlines, or lack thereof, I thought it was important for us to widen the scope through which we view this topic of mental health. Coincidentally, World Suicide Prevention Day was observed on September 10 and the theme for this year's World Mental Health Day (October 10) is 'Mental Health and Young People'. I am hoping this year's theme will shift the conversation from the seemingly dangerous “madman” who needs to be locked away to more relatable concerns.

As an avid reader of online comments I noted the opinions of some individuals who thought young people had nothing to be worried about. To them it seemed that not having the stress of work and bills and “hard life” meant that young people had nothing to impact their mental health. They also believed that many of their suicidal thoughts were attention-seeking behaviour influenced by American culture.

As a counselling psychologist, who has worked primarily with at-risk youth, I can attest to the fact that the mental health concerns of young people (and people at large) are attributable to myriad factors specific to our culture and societal ills. In my years of experience I have heard almost every case imaginable and many of my clients come to me for various issues, including relationships, work stress, substance use, and grief. Nevertheless, I urge you to broaden your view of the issues young people face by examining the following.

Contemplate the young student who hails from an inner-city community and loses her father during a flare-up of violence. Months later she is still experiencing trouble sleeping, concentrating in school, and having panic attacks. Or think about the young boy who is acting out in school; skipping class, being disrespectful to teachers, getting into fights and smoking weed. With greater inspection it can be gleaned that his underlying issues stem from the fact that he has never met his father and is angry and resentful.

What about the girl who has experienced years of sexual abuse as a child and is now quiet and withdrawn, engaging in self-harm and expressing suicidal thoughts? Let's not forget the young men who feel pressured to conform to the societal pressures of “being a man” and getting “a work” without being properly taught what that means. Or think of the teenaged mother who must now face the responsibility of raising a child while still being a child herself.

What about the six out of 10 students who report being bullied, many of whom transfer to other schools to escape the teasing; or the students who must now face greater academic stress of the new Primary Exit Profile and other requirements.

The Jamaica Mental Health Advocacy Network calls for greater emphasis to be placed on mental health and holistic remedies the variety of problems our young people face. We recommend that students be taught life and coping skills to build their resilience and emotional intelligence. We further endorse that guidance counsellors be trained in crisis response and trauma counselling, and that student leaders be equipped with mental health first aid skills. Moreover, we call for the Government to strengthen partnerships with non-governmental organisations and civil society to improve the level of psychosocial care given to our youth.

These examples show us the impact of what many people consider to be the norm for the Jamaican context on youth mental health. If we continue to view these problems in silos and treat them in a vacuum, we will only be placing a Band-Aids on bullet wounds.

Jhanille A Brooks, MA, is a director of Jamaica Mental Health Advocacy Network. Send comments to the Observer or jhanille_brooks@hotmail.com.

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