**photo credit: The Office of the Children’s Registry**

 

The mental health of Jamaicans, especially that of the youth population is becoming an obvious contributory factor to the country’s social detriment.  It is unfortunate that with so many broken homes and family structures, the increase in crime and community based violence, as well as the social and economic disadvantage being currently faced by many Jamaicans; one would doubt the grave mental health breakdown these issues have influenced. As a society known for its strength and resilience, it is undoubted that one would automatically believe mental health is not a real concern.  The bio-psychosocial maladjustment of Jamaican youth is rife, and it is time to pay attention to the mental health issues being faced by many.

Academically, many students have learning difficulties because of underlying issues such as their social, economic and emotional wellbeing. Teachers have serious problems with working with certain students, especially those who have been socialized with poor values. Improper parenting has been an ongoing problem that has created a lot of problems for youth in their personal development. Children have been involved in various situations that threaten their mental wellbeing, yet, are expected to continue through life as normal individuals. It is sad that so many of our youth cry for help—if even without tears— but are never recognized as hurting. The verbal, physical and emotional abuses of children weigh on their values into their adult life and not only do they end up adding to the cycle of social pitfall, many also add to the economic burden.

Self-esteem and self worthiness is uncommon to many of our youth; they do not understand the true meaning or the importance of personal development. When students leave families, homes, and communities where hardship and violence is a way of life it is certainly difficult to expect such youth to adjust to a formal school setting where good principles and values supposedly dwell. On the other hand are the situations where educators lack the ability and compassion to deal with many of these types of youth whose level of socialization surpasses their stage of development. The reality is that many youth within Jamaica’s school system have horror stories unshared. They learn to cope with aggression and economic challenges, hopelessness, tough love and violence, sexual assault and poverty as normal. How can we expect that these kinds of youth will learn at the same pace as those who have a more fortunate life? How do we believe that when some of these children are disruptive, angry, ill-mannered, sexually exposed, uninterested in leaning or socializing, fixed on quick gain vanity in adulthood; it is not as a result of their gradual mental breakdown. Sure enough, there are also the quiet students who are well-behaved and corporative with peers, teachers, and are well- mannered to adults; yet, even these students have cried out for help unnoticeably. The withdrawn youth who are always sad and stays to themselves, the ones who look forward to school each day as an escape from their home life or community, the ones who are with gassiness and lack of energy by 10am and can no longer pay attention in class because of hunger, the ones who violently express threats to other students who anger them because they know no better… how do we deal with these youth? How do we tell them get over it and not feel without helping them make sense of these emotions they might not even understand? What of those students who are always inlove, and have heightened sexuality?

The mental health issues being faced by our Jamaican youth are beyond quick fixes and trivial short term strategies that will only decorate at-risk schools and communities with signs. If we provide books and computers and overlook psychosocial development, the circular pattern of mental health downfall will continue to go unnoticed. One cannot push aside how emotions play an active role in personality and values as well as coping and decision making. These are some of the reasons we have created a Mentoring program to provide counseling and empowerment to some of these youth.

Strides’  Mentoring For Reformation Project  seeks to provide education, group counseling and empowerment to children within the school system who are at-risk. The program runs for 6-8 weeks dealing with topics such as: Sexuality & Identity, Personal Development, Crime & Violence, Internet Safety, Tolerance and Diversity, Health, Leadership and Communication. We utilize specialized activities and therapy to help mentees cope with their life situations as children and adolescents. While it is unfortunate that many educators do not understand the situations some of these children face, or know when to recognize a child who is silently crying out, we work with the Guidance department of each school the program in implemented in hopes of providing practical and effective strategies that will empower these youth to defy the odds. Through creativity and arts, we pull stories from mentees and help them cope healthily by teaching them tolerance and conflict resolution. The program offers one-on-one with students who are in need of individual counseling and we collaborate with other organizations to offer universality to students from different background and communities. We offer a free collaborative workshop with educators through the school’s guidance department to sensitize teachers on dealing with certain students for a more cohesive class.

Mental health wellness is important and as such we hope to implement practical and sustainable strategic programs that will effectively help youth to defy the odds and cope healthily with their tragic and painful experiences.

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