Chevening alumni launches adolescent mental health campaign in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Wellness

The content originally appeared on: Caribbean News Service
Members of the organising committee for the Adolescent Mental Health Conference being implemented by the Jamaica Chevening Alumni Network as part of its #YourMindMatters Campaign include (from left) Chad Morgan, Alecia Hamilton, Sherika Whitelocke-Ballingsingh, Najuequa Barnes, Joy Angulu, Tracey Hamilton and Shanoy Coombs, seen here at the conference’s media launch at the Liguanea Club on Monday, December 5.

In response to escalating mental health challenges faced by young Jamaicans, the Jamaica Chevening Alumni Network, with endorsement from the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) and the British High Commission, has launched  a mental awareness campaign – #YourMindMatters.

The initiative, which is funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office, is strategically designed to destigmatise mental illness and prioritise the mental well-being of the younger generation. It aims to impact Jamaican children and teenagers, aged 10-19, through a multifaceted approach.

This includes a robust multi-media awareness campaign aimed at changing negative perceptions about mental health, a day-long conference  for students and parents, introduction of a mental health curriculum into selected schools, and collaborative partnerships with key stakeholders across Jamaica.

Speaking at the media launch of the Adolescent Mental Health Conference on Monday, Health Minister, Dr. Christopher Tufton emphasised the urgency of normalising mental health and debunking societal stigmas.

“In our society, mental health is often narrowly defined, making it a topic people avoid and even stigmatise. This narrow perspective leads to harmful actions like isolating and ostracising those with mental health issues, creating an inextricable link between mental health challenges and homelessness.”

“The solution lies in changing this approach. Ideally, we should aim to make mental health a normal and accepted part of our conversations and support systems, rather than isolating and rejecting those who need help,” he stated.

With a population of over 800,000 children in Jamaica, the Minister estimates that, conservatively, about 15%—equivalent to nearly 120,000 children—may be grappling with a mental disorder. Further, he points out that 5%, or approximately 40,000 children, could be experiencing the more severe impacts of mental health disorders.

Chevening alumna and #YourMindMatters chief project lead, Najequa Barnes, expressed similar views, echoing the need for more support services for Jamaican youth.

“Our adolescents are our present and future, and they face unique issues within their community. Our approach to providing support will require the inclusion of stakeholders at all levels – within their homes, churches, clubs, civil society, as well as public and private partnership.”

She continued: “Our journey takes us beyond a mere launch; it introduces us to a comprehensive conference that seeks to address the critical issue of adolescent mental health. This conference aims to provide training and support to both students and parents—a holistic approach that recognises the integral role played by schools and families in nurturing the mental well-being of our youth.”

Meanwhile,  British High Commissioner to Jamaica, Judith Slater extended her organisation’s support for the project as she delivered her remarks at the launch event.

“The #YourMindMatters campaign is a timely and relevant initiative addressing critical mental health challenges among Jamaican youth. Our team is delighted to support this impactful project, spearheaded by our Chevening alumni in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Wellness. We extend our best wishes for great success, recognising the importance of fostering mental well-being for the future leaders of Jamaica,” she said.

The Adolescent Mental Health Conference, which is set for Saturday, January 13, 2024 at the Jamaica Conference Centre, aims to provide mental health sensitisation and training to 100 Jamaican parents/guardians and children. The event will feature a team of experts, including psychiatrists and psychologists who will impart strategies and tips to parents as a means of helping them identify and address mental health challenges in their own children.

Additionally, the Ministry of Health and Wellness, which assumes a pivotal role in fostering mental health awareness among youth, will collaborate with the Ministry of Education and Youth (MOEY) to guide 50 students, 10 each from five schools, through specialised mental awareness training using the MOEY’s mental health curriculum.

To extend its reach, the Adolescent Mental Health conference will be live streamed via the social media handle ‘Mindfulness Jamaica’ to facilitate access by other schools and interested parties.

Minister Tufton noted the importance of providing this kind of support: “Helping young people develop basic skills to cope with challenges, steering them away from substance abuse, and encouraging problem-solving not only prepares them for inevitable pressures but also fosters resilience. Creating a safe space for relaxation and open communication ensures they can effectively navigate difficulties, ultimately contributing to a healthier and more capable generation,” he explained.

Similarly, Barnes urges a shift from viewing adolescents through a lens of deviant behaviour to understanding the nuances of their experiences, stating: “Their well-being needs to be treated as priority, fully integrated and at the forefront of policy. No longer should we approach our adolescents with an ideology of deviant behaviour but should seek to educate ourselves on the matters unique to them.”

The Chevening alumni invites interested groups and corporate sponsors to come on board for the project in order to make the conference as impactful as possible.  By providing financial assistance, organizations contribute directly to destigmatizing mental health, enhancing awareness, and fostering a supportive environment for adolescents in Jamaica.

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