Tue | Oct 23, 2018

Christopher Harper | Young people and mental health

Published:Wednesday | October 10, 2018 | 12:00 AM

October 10, 2018 is recognised globally as World Mental Health Day. This year, we celebrate this momentous occasion under the relevant and timely theme, 'Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World'.

Today signifies a global network of conversations powered by a common mandate aimed at establishing a wider audience, ensuring greater impact and achieving and sustaining a unified voice for mental health. Within the context of Jamaica and the world at large, there is a need to ensure that young people are able to grow up healthy, happy and resilient. Centring young people in this global dialogue reaffirms many of the perspectives that youth are agents of change, critical to development, and exist as both present and future.

Dr Christopher Tufton, minister of health, recently issued a statement affirming that it is time to commit to mental health. There is no uncertainty that the period between early adolescence and youth is often characterised by rapid and ongoing changes that may have serious implications on the lived experiences - social, cultural and economic - of those who fall within this developmental cycle.

Issues related to violence - in and out of school, stigma and discrimination, suicide and self-harm, sexuality and gender identity and the difficulties associated with manoeuvring interpersonal relationships, among a plethora of others, establish a context within which mental-health issues thrive. In unpacking these issues, we must also acknowledge the premise that many problems associated with mental health affect young people, regardless of their class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, among other characteristics.

Centring the conversation around young people recognises a clear and immediate need to fortify their ability to manage global, local and community changes while leveraging their experiences so as to allow for more suitable comprehensive, age-appropriate, culturally relevant, evidence-based and inclusive intervention strategies.

 

MEANINGFUL ENGAGEMENT

 

In addressing these issues, it is important to ensure investment and sustainability in the collaborative process. All state action, inclusive of programmes, policies, guidelines and measures must be made within the best interests of our children. Actualising collaboration requires meaningful engagement consistent with the rights outlined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Accordingly, views manifested by children concerning the design and implementation of mental-health programming and guidelines should be given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity.

This means that the views of our young people should be seriously considered against any information, experiences, environment, social and cultural expectations, and levels of support that inherently contribute to the development of their capacity to form views. It is critical to respect the position of young people as key stakeholders and the subjects of the response.

Against this grain of youth participation and meaningful engagement is the need to also establish an enabling environment within which these rights can be adequately realised. The Ministry of Health and relevant stakeholders should aim to prevent the prevalence of stigma and discrimination, which is often reinforced by public miseducation, protect our young people from harmful practices that have the potential to derail their mental health, and provide services and programmes that directly and indirectly address their needs and experiences.

At a time when mental health awareness is on an upsurge and with more dialogue taking place across various channels and platforms, I urge those with the power, influence and ability to introduce change to seize this opportunity as a means of manifesting practical solutions that adequately respond to the needs of those most at risk.

- Christopher Harper is an attorney-at-law and child-rights and youth development advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jyanadvocacy@gmail.com.