Lady Allen and I are very pleased to be with you for today’s Youth Consultative Conference. I welcome you wholeheartedly coming in from the 14 parishes.
When I launched the “I Believe Initiative” in 2011 and convened the 1st Youth Consultative Conference in November of that year, little did I know that these Conferences would become highlights on the annual calendar of The Governor-General’s Social Programme.
The Conferences have provided an avenue for young people to share their ideas on topical issues that affect them and the country. Over the years, we have discussed many and varied topics, including:
• The Logistics Hub Initiative.
• Youth and Community Involvement.
• Youth Empowerment.
• Volunteerism.
Today we discuss the topic, “Mental Health Among Youth.”

You may have noticed that the subject of mental health has received a great deal of attention in the news. It is one of concern to young people and is a much-discussed issue on the Youth Agenda across social media platforms in recent months.
The IBI Parish Leads and Ambassadors, who assisted Ms. Grier in the planning and execution of this Consultation, concurred that this should be the topic for discussion.
“Mental Health Among Youth” is a wide subject, and we cannot cover all the aspects in just a few hours here today, nor do we have all the answers. However, we will get the discussion going and also get your views on this important issue.

Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps decide how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. The mind controls the whole body and all our actions begin there. I am sure our expert panel will elaborate more and offer a proper definition as they put the subject in perspective.

The American writer, Henry David Thoreau in his classic book Walden said, ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ The lives of many persons lack a higher purpose and are influenced by a materialistic world. They do not enjoy life, they have no time for self-introspection or mindfulness, and they live with anxiety and self-doubts.
Depression among youth worldwide has soared by 70% in the past 25 years. Although Jamaica ranked 56 out of 176 countries on the World Happiness Index, many of our young people are not happy. Don’t be fooled by the exuberance of some who seem to be ‘the life of the party.’ This superficial exterior sometimes hides deep depression and unhappiness.

Mental health problems include substance abuse, anorexia, bulimia, mood and anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, and suicide.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among the 10-24 age group, which accounts for 27% of the world’s population. Up to 2016, Jamaica had one of the lowest suicide rates in the world. However, there has been a subtle increase since then.
Dr Abel will tell you that schizophrenia and depression are the most prevalent and severe mental health disorders in Jamaica. The Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey 2016-17 reports that the highest overall prevalence of depression was among youth aged 15-24 years.
This age group is more prone to suicidal thoughts, have the highest risk of suicide, and accounts for more than 50% of the attempted cases of suicide treated at local hospitals. The report earlier this month of the 24-year old male from Hanover who committed suicide, is a chilling reminder that this problem is a grim reality.
Mental health problems are no respecter of persons. Children as young as three years old have been diagnosed with mental health problems. Many times the boy in school who is labelled as a ‘problem child’ may be struggling with a mental health issue.
Folks may wonder why do young people get depressed? Some of the main reasons include limited access to education and socioeconomic opportunities, unpleasant or uncomfortable physical surroundings, lack of exercise, examination expectations, happenings in the environment such as crime and violence, abuse, challenges at home and school, and interpersonal relationships.

Let me see the hands of those who are on social media? Twitter, whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat? Yes, I thought so. Many of you probably use all of these platforms! In this world of cyberspace, you offer your life on display for all to see, and you also see the lifestyles of others. Some persons may be positively influenced and stay inspired. However, others often fall into the trap of posting ‘for the likes’ and not for the love of self. When these hopes are not met, they fall into a spiral of depression.
Young people, I’m here to tell you no matter how many ‘likes’ you get on Instagram or Facebook, whether 1, 000 or 1 million, or how many persons watch your snaps, you must love, appreciate, and believe in your thoughts and abilities, because as soon as you put down that smart device or log out of your social media accounts, it’s just you and your reality. You have to face the person in the mirror.

On October 10 we observed World Mental Health Day under the theme, “Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World.” Youth who are battling mental health crisis cannot be empowered to realize their full God-given potential and contribute meaningfully to nation-building.

If you or someone in your home, community or school has mental health challenges, go to your guidance counsellor, pastor, community mental health nurse, or a responsible adult who you trust and share the problem and get help. When you take the stigma personally, you affirm others’ beliefs by playing into it.
I hope that from our conversation today, if you hear mentally ill persons being stigmatized, you can speak up for them, correct misconceptions and educate others.
Although we have no control over human and financial resources deployed dealing with mental health nationally, the IBI is doing its part in the collective effort of dealing with this ‘epidemic’. Your observations, comments and insight aired here today will be shared with other stakeholders as together we collaborate to grapple with this problem in our country.
The World Health Organization tells us it is important to ‘build mental resilience from an early age to help prevent mental distress and illness among adolescents and young adults.’

Positive mental health will allow people to:
• Realize their full potential.
• Cope with the stresses of life.
• Work productively.
• Make meaningful contributions to their communities.

As I said earlier, we will not solve the deep-seated issue of mental health among youth here today, but we need to recognize there is a critical problem, and we must get the conversation started.
I must say thanks to Honourable Custos of St James, our Sponsors, Presenters, parents, schools, delegates, the IBI Ambassadors and their Management Committee, the IBI Project Officer, and the King’s House Staff who have all worked hard to ensure that we could be here for our Conference.
So this morning, we want to engage the IBI family as we search for possible solutions. We want to hear from you, our young people, who are the next generation of nation-builders/leaders. Share your ideas on how we can tackle this issue of “Mental Health Among Youth.”
Let’s talk!