UNICEF calls for better mental health for every child on World Children’s Day
Every child deserves to grow up in loving, nurturing and safe environments.
Kingston, November 20, 2022 – Today on World Children’s Day, UNICEF Jamaica is calling for greater investment in mental health care for children and adolescents. The call comes against the background of the continued impacts of COVID-19, unequal access to services and prevalent family and community violence – all persistent threats to the well-being of an entire generation of young people.
With the onset of COVID-19, caregivers reported that their boys and girls experienced heightened levels of frustration (41 per cent), anxiety (23 per cent), clinginess (49 per cent) and fear (21 per cent), according to the 2021 Lasting Impact report by UNICEF and the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI). Even before the pandemic, a UNICEF-supported 2014 Ministry of Health and Wellness study revealed that more than 60 per cent of those treated at hospital for attempted suicide were under 25 years-old.
“UNICEF is urging policy makers to take a coordinated and multi-sectoral approach to expanding mental health and psychosocial support and services that can be accessed by young people,” said Vicente Teran, Acting UNICEF Country Representative. “Research shows that eighty per cent of Jamaican children experience violence in their homes and communities. This type of trauma has negative impacts on all aspects of early child development and increases the risk of lifelong adverse outcomes including mental disorders, further victimisation and involvement with violence and crime.”
Currently, the health ministry has only 30 per cent of the staff needed to operate its 23 Child Guidance Clinics which provide mental health support and services to children and adolescents, according to a 2021 CAPRI report The Inadequacy of Mental Health Services for Children. The report also noted that the 23 clinics serve 8,000 children annually, which is inadequate, as it is estimated that some 160,000 children in Jamaica need this support.
“At UNICEF, we are concerned that many adolescents do not have an environment at home, at school or in their communities where they feel safe to talk about their mental health. Often, young people face ridicule, stigma or even bullying when they seek support. Many adolescents say their parents and teachers do not take them seriously when they open up about the mental stress that they confront,” said Teran.
UNICEF continues to support mental health interventions for children and youth across sectors, including building a new Teen Hub with the Ministry of Health and Wellness in Morant Bay in St Thomas. Also, with that Ministry, UNICEF's U-Report social messaging service for youth launched the free, confidential and anonymous U-Matter mental health chatline. Young people are encouraged to message the word SUPPORT to 876-838-4897 on WhatsApp or with free SMS for Flow customers; or @ureportjamaica on Instagram and Facebook Messenger to connect with a trained counsellor.
Psychosocial interventions are also being provided in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Youth, including the violence prevention School-Wide Positive Behaviour Intervention and Support (SWPBIS) framework. UNICEF has continued to support teletherapy services provided by Child Guidance Clinics, and many of the young people are referred by Guidance Counsellors. Meanwhile with the Department of Correctional Services, UNICEF is developing a Positive Behaviour Management Framework to train staff to build more positive relationships with the juveniles in their care.
However, even as these organizations work to address some of the gaps, there is an urgent need for government investment to impact the overwhelming need in a sustainable and meaningful way. In addition to the need for increased professional mental health treatment and support, Jamaica must invest in the development of policy frameworks that facilitate greater coordination and case management across ministries so that children and their caregivers are not frustrated as they seek care. Also, the widespread stigma must be addressed through community level campaigns to ensure that adolescents are enabled to seek and receive help.
Every child has the right to grow up in a loving, nurturing and safe environment, with supportive relationships and access to quality mental health and psychosocial support – and UNICEF stands ready to support the government and non-government partners to ensure that children and their families can receive support.
World Children’s Day is UNICEF’s global day of action for children, by children. As part of Jamaica’s participation in UNICEF’s global #OnMyMind campaign, we will be holding a forum at our downtown Kingston office for young people aged 10 years old and upwards to express their views on mental health, which will inform our work in this area in 2023. Celebrated every year on November 20 to coincide with the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the day aims to raise awareness and funds for the millions of children who are denied their rights, and to elevate young people’s voices as critical to any discussion about their future.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children in Jamaica, visit www.unicef.org/jamaica.