Teen Changemakers Essay Contest: 2nd Place

By: Charm Evans

“Mental health…is not a destination, but a process. It’s about how you drive, not where you’re going.” – Noam Shpancer, PhD. Mental illnesses are no joke. It is important that people learn how to identify common mental illnesses so that we can understand it’s physical, social and financial impact. According to the Jamaica Observer, in 2018, Jamaica experienced a mental health crisis among adolescents aged fourteen to seventeen and the problem was further compounded by a shortage of mental health specialists in the public sector to deal with the affected children. Chief Executive Officer of the Child Protection and Family Services Agencies stated that a significant number of children exhibit behavioral issues resulting from traumatic experiences such as abuse or other adverse ordeals. These issues, she said, would have remained untreated for a significant number of years before cascading into psycho-social and mental health problems that are currently being manifested in children. Mental illnesses are caused by multiple things such as a family history of mental illnesses, aboriginal children and youth, young people who have gone through a major life change such as moving to a new city or school, young people who have faced trauma, including abuse, gay, lesbian or transgendered youth and young people with substance abuse problems. There is a tremendous stigma against mental illnesses in Jamaica and the Caribbean. When one confesses that they are experiencing symptoms of a mental illness or they are displaying a change in their behavioral patterns, for example, unexplained anger, they are viewed as overdramatic, psycho, mad, crazy and stupid, This stigma prevents individuals from coming forward simply because they do not want to conform to views of society. This topic was discussed with Manning’s School’s Guidance Councillor, Mrs. Bedassi and Vice Principal, Ms.Kerr and we decided to draft a proposal which states that to reduce the stigma in our school, we would develop a weekly mental health campaign which would be reviewed annually.

World Mental Health day is observed on the 10th of October every year with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health. Ms. Kerr, Mrs. Bedassi and I decided that we would conduct a mental health week campaign in the week of October 10th to educate the school’s population about mental health.

To continue with, working with children during summer 2019 allowed me to have a connection with younger kids and having first – hand experience with someone who possessed symptoms of depression (a diagnosis was not given) allowed me to question things. Suppose people in my environment are silently suffering and are scared to express their feelings and voice their thoughts simply because they don’t want to be a burden to others, or they do not want people to view them differently? If I, a youth, who strongly believes that mental health needs to be taken seriously, could advocate on their behalf, would that not be superb?

To effectively execute this plan, a team of 10-15 individuals would be formed to ensure that our mental health campaign week would be a success. Mental health organizations such as Jamaica Mental Health Advocacy, Mental Health Unit and Jamaica Moves would visit our school and do a presentation on an aspect of mental health. Below, is a list of activities that would be done on each day.

Furthermore, letters will be sent to Guidance Counsellors of neighboring schools and a few mental health organizations asking them to participate in our mental health week campaign, fundraising will be done to fund the event and a committee will be formed to properly plan the event. After our weekly campaign, students can speak to Mrs. Bedassi, our school’s Guidance Counsellor, throughout the year and/or even a

representative from a mental health organization that visited the school. There will be potential limitations but said limitations are hurdles to be jumped over. Too many teenagers are slowly withering away in the silence and I believe that their voices deserve to be heard and that they deserve the necessary support and assistance. I strongly believe that with the necessary assistance, this proposal is a guaranteed success. Willpower and strong determination are the key to ultimate success.

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