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National Thrust to study Adolescent Mental Health

Our small population of over 300,000 has lived without war in its short existence. But while we say we are a peaceful country, the murder rate per capita is very high and amongst the highest in the world. The conviction rate for those murders are also less than 5 percent. The prevalence of violent crime in urban areas is only one sign that there are issues of mental health. The pavement of the main city and town streets are also the home of the downtrodden. But while the mental issues of the homeless are glaring as the sun, it is the health of our most vulnerable population, our youths that are hidden in the shade. There are massive projects being undertaken to study the mental health of our adolescents and today the Ministry of Health, UNICEF and other medical practitioners gathered for the launch of those initiatives at the Biltmore Hotel. Love News spoke to the organizers about why the mental health of our youths have become a substantial part of their mandate.

Jose Sanchez: “The mental health of teens ages 10 to 19 and the prevalence of suicide in the age 15 to 19 have brought together stakeholders to address the people who will inherit their responsibilities of society. Keynote speaker Special Envoy Kim Simplis Barrow says that it is pertinent to be more aware of the youths in our community.”

Keynote speaker Special Envoy Kim Simplis Barrow: “Mental illness is something serious and we really need to take it seriously in Belize. We have seen a number of incidences in Belize and it is not only that, it is what has been occurring from before and mental illness is affecting our young population. We have a lot of young girls self-harming, attempted suicide and we don’t know. As parents, they hide it from us and I think our message is that we as parents need to kind of open the conversation and not be so dismissive about our children’s distress when they come to us with distress. We need to ensure that we give them a platform for them to speak out, for them to talk to us, for them to tell us exactly how they are feeling because a lot of times we are very dismissive with things like you have nothing to worry about or all you need to worry about is doing well with school, that’s it but there are other forces at play and we need to be cognizant of that.”

Jose Sanchez: “Two programs will need to be rolled out, the M map to measure the mental health of adolescents across the population and the Health Adolescent Thrive. Mental Health Counselors will join the Statistics Institute of Belize Census to learn more about our youths. According to Juliet Simmons the Mental Health Counselor for the Mental Health Program.”

Juliet Simmons – Mental Health Counselor for the Mental Health Program: “The first one I talk about, the M map is because we want to know what the mental health situation among our adolescents is so what we are doing this week is perfecting, we are meeting with some of the adolescents, about thirty of them will be around here for the remainder of this week.”

Jose Sanchez: “Are they from across the country?”

Juliet Simmons – Mental Health Counselor for the Mental Health Program: “No, right now it is just for Belize City because we are testing our instruments and so forth.  When we roll it out next year, when we partner with the Statistical Institute of Belize and we go house to house with the census to find out what is going on with our adolescence. That will be really a lot of work that is exciting, we are all revved up about this but one thing we are doing simultaneously with the M map is the HAP which is the Helping Adolescent Strive so we want to know from them, that is more about intervention. We want to know from them what can we do? What else can we do to help them? Right now we are testing right now, doing some focus groups, having discussions with them, how they would like this to roll out, how we should form our questions for them, make sure we have it. We don’t want to be using a foreign instrument that can collect data perfectly for Australia or the United States. We want to make it culturally for Belize so we need to work with them, we need to be  a part of this.”

Jose Sanchez: “The session has been organized by UNICEF in conjunction with the Ministry of Health. Susan Kasedde UNICEF Representative in Belize spoke about the importance of this initiative.”

Susan Kasedde – UNICEF Representative: “The number of attempted suicides in adolescents aged 15 to 19 has more than doubled in a very short space of time and that is really just the tip of the iceberg because it reflects those adolescents,  their families who have been able to be confident in and have the courage to come forward and seek support. We know from global data , from global experience that the vast majority of individuals facing mental health challenges remained undetected, their issues remain untreated and so we know we are seeing only a small proportion of those that really need support. The work that we are launching today with the Ministry of Health is aimed at establishing a better understanding around the nature of mental health disorders, mental health challenges that are experienced by adolescents in Belize through a population-based survey so that we have an understanding of the prevalence as well as the diversity of the issues. At the same time, we are also launching an effort with Ministry to understand the kinds of interventions that adolescents themselves seek or believe would helpful in responding to the challenges they face so we are launching two complementary efforts to understand, to equip and to better respond to mental health in adolescents. “

Jose Sanchez: “After the research is done and we find that there are teens that may need access…is our systems capable of handling teens? It seems that it is lacking when it comes to adults already so is there anything in place of this program?”

Juliet Simmons – Mental Health Counselor for the Mental Health Program: “Well, when we get this data we will make sure we have the resources available? If this data highlights we have an increase in let’s say 20, just calling out a number, 20% increase in anxiety and depression, we at the Ministry of Health with definitely need to respond to that, we will need to find the resources.”

Jose Sanchez for Love News.

This week about 30 teens will participate in draft sessions that will inform the survey tools on adolescent mental health. The main thrust will take place during the SIB population census in 2020.