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Today, October 10th, the Ministry of Health joins the international community to observe World Mental Health Day under the theme Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World. In Belize, youths accounted for 15% of the total consultations for mental health services over the last 10 years and anxiety accounted for 55% of those consultations. Rates of suicide attempts per 100,000 people for age groups 10-14 and 15–19 were 17.6% and 74.3% respectively. Love News Reporter Sitnah Blease attended the launch of the Ministry’s awareness activities.

Sitnah Blease: As World Mental Health Day is celebrated internationally, today students from all over Belize gathered along with the Ministry of Health and several other organizations to discuss the mental health of adolescents Belize. As though mental health is as important as any other, the taboo subject has always been discussed behind closed doors therefore prohibiting acceptance and understanding among many individuals. In an effort to spread awareness Juliet Simmons, a therapist for the Mental Health unit, discussed the stigma around Mental Health and that in can affect everyone in society.”

Juliet Simmons: “Mental Health problems does not discriminate, it can affect anyone of us regardless of you race, your social class, your economic status, your educational status, whatever religion, it doesn’t matter, it can affect any one of us, for instance stress, life is full of stress and stress triggers Mental Health illness, it triggers  anxiety, it triggers depression and these are some of the two big ones actually the young people are battling as you call it but there is a lot of things going on in society today there is different types of addiction, there is violence, there is so much trauma people are exposed to on a daily basis here in the city. These things will bring on mental health problems either now or later on. How do they cope with it is what tells us how good their mental health is. The Ministry of Health has a unit we call the mental health unit, we have clinics in every district, every district has a Mental health clinic. Here in Belize City we have clinics at the Port Loyola Health center, we have at the Cleopatra Health Center. In the district it is attached to the district hospital so we have a team out there. We have psychiatrist , we have psychiatric nurse and we have councillors like myself. People need to know that help is available and where it is available like I just said but the stigma is so grand that people are fearful to come in that they will be labelled as crazy and that is something that nobody wants to be called and the next thing is people don’t, there is an issue of confidentiality, they feel like we are going to talk about their problems, that also is lack of trust but we are confidential. There is no reason for us to discuss your business with anyone and the stigma of course if we talk about it more we are fighting the stigma. The more people learn and understand mental health there will be less stigma.”

Dr. Raymond Figuerroa CEO of the Ministry of Health also expressed his views on why many adolescents experience issues with their mental well being.

Dr. Raymond Figuerroa CEO of the Ministry of Health: “We tend to forget that young people especially as they transitioning from childhood to adulthood because of the physiological and anatomical changes that they go through really affects their psyche and makes them quite a vulnerable group. They are also a group that especially in this day and age expose through social media through a lot of negative influences: we have heard about cyber bullying, we have heard about brainwashing over the internet. They are targeting a vulnerable population that if we don’t have support services to help them navigate through this difficult time they can actually result in serious mental health issues. Well we have a whole group of psychiatric nurses that work with the Ministry of Education closely, we establish network with the Ministry of Education and our basic health facilities are probably not every facility doesn’t have trained personal as we would have but they are trained to try to identify some of these issues and the refer to psychiatric nurse practitioners. We are right now focusing on a adolescent health plan that will address some of their priority concerns which includes violence, drug use and mental health as a general issue.”

The administrator of Belize Welcome Center Joyce Ellis shared how the Mental Health Center has impacted the lives of many individuals, particularly adolescents who have visited them.

Joyce Ellis: “It’s a drop in center where you care for the mentally ill, homeless and the elderly, now the population we serve is an adult population so they come at age 18 so its an adult but for the most part they are still in that youth bracket. Since the past two years we have encountered quite a lot of young people coming in but the thing is that when the young people come most of the time they are not our regulars so they will use it as it is a drop in but the time that we encounter them we use it to get their information and then we could check and see where they are at and then parents and guardians will say to us you know what he or she is doing well so he or she is at home so that is something that is really great and that’s what the resource center is all about to try and get families involved and to reintegrate people with families.”

As Belize celebrated this year’s Mental Health Day with the theme Young People in Mental Health  in A Changing World both and opening ceremony and a speech competition was held with a Sadie Vernon student Victoria Romero winning 1st place. Reporting for Love News I am Sitnah Belase.