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Exposure to violence and lack of exercise linked to Teen Mental Health

Two initiatives, a Measurement of Mental Health Among Adolescents at the Population Level and Helping Adolescents Thrive, were launched earlier in the week. The initiatives, a product of collaboration between the Ministry of Health and UNICEF is expected to address the mental health of teens by assessing and eventually addressing the concerns. Love News spoke to UNICEF Country Representative for Belize Susan Kasedde, who says that the exposure to violence in our country and even the lack of exercise are linked to issues with mental health.

Susan Kasedde – Unicef Representative: “Mental Health is an issue of increasing concern and the Ministry of Health has the benefit of data from services that are being sorted by all age groups at the various health facilities across the country. Over the last four to five years the Ministry of Health’s data has shown that more and more adolescence age fifteen to nineteen are struggling with severe mental health challenges.”

Jose Sanchez: “When you look at the global trends in your other studies there are various explanations to why young people ages 10 – 19 or 15 -19 are attempting suicide or facing those issues, can those be applied to Belize? Those findings?”

Susan Kasedde – Unicef Representative: “So when we look at the global experience with respect to mental health in adolescents, we know several things, one we know that because of the age and the stage of development of adolescence they are prone to to experience a number of things such as identity in crisis or a sense of seeming isolation. They are only developing and learning who they are and they are responding to multiple messages that may raise questions in their mind that may cause discomfort so we know that there is something with the developmental stage that they are at that predisposes them to the kinds of internal stresses that might aggravate what might ordinarily would be a normal level of anxiety. We also know that they experience an extreme amount of social pressure, academic pressure, pressure in the family environment that can add to that layer of ongoing development and its effects on mental health. At the same time, we know that socially and also in adolescents as well are exposed to multiple additional triggers, some chronically so. In Belize what is most pertinent for many adolescents is the exposure, the experience of violence, the effect that that has on adolescents sense of security, sense of stability and the ability to engage socially so we know that there are multiple causes. The lack of exercise has been linked to increased risk of mental health challenges and we know that there are pressures to do other activities, to participate in academics or to work, we know that they may be less inclined to participate in recreational activities that help to reduce the risk of worse mental health issues. There are many things: lifestyle, diet exercise, overuse of technology, violence, and other social exposures. Many of these are present in the society that we live in, here in Belize as well and so while we may not have sufficient data right now to pinpoint the contribution for each of these factors to mental health and our teams in Belize we know that these factors remain present. The Ministry of Health for a long time with those adolescents who are seeking their support has been working with them to put in place ways to support these adolescents in dealing with similar issues.”

When the questionnaires are complete, there will be a national effort to collect data on mental health during the Statistical Institute of Belize’s population census in 2020.