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Youth: your voice and your mental health matters!

That feeling of not being able to express ourselves affects us, it causes stress and worse mental health. That is really why I joined the U-Report Youth Council – to help young people have a voice and why I want to pursue a career in psychology.

Young persons should not underestimate themselves or what they have to say because it really does matter. If you are passionate about something you should try and say it, or feel safe enough to do so.

U-Report is showing just how badly mental health is impacting our youth. When we ran a poll last September, 53 per cent responded that they had considered suicide. This was especially serious when you consider that the number of suicides in Jamaica rose 30 per cent last year.

But when you consider all that, it only makes it more sad that of those who responded to that same U-Report poll, 91 per cent said Jamaicans do not take the mental health of young people seriously.

Speaking with people about their mental health

Yet, as a volunteer for the Jamaica Mental Health Advocacy Network (JAMHAN), I get to present to groups and organisations and my experience is that people want more public education and on an individual level that they want help! In a session I did for the National Library Service teachers and librarians were telling me that more education is needed inside our schools and for the public.

People are often ignorant about the realities of mental illnesses and on a more intimate level I have experienced persons crying or asking if I could get help for family members who are suffering. It has been kind of overwhelming at times.

Youth especially feel that they do not have anyone to connect with. I just think we need more public education and to get people to understand that mental health challenges are normal. What should not be normal is people being left to suffer in silence or ignorance.

Stop stopping children from expressing themselves!

I think a lot has to do with how we are socialised, and parenting skills. Children from more upper-middle class backgrounds might be encouraged to express themselves but those from poor backgrounds are more likely to be told to shut up, yet those are the children who live in more challenging environments.

Having graduated with a degree in psychology from the University of West Indies (UWI) Mona last year, my hope is to find a job in the field and then to do my Masters.

Getting involved in U-Report was firstly because I love volunteering and I just think that is my responsibility to work on behalf of young people. When I was younger I would have loved to be asked regularly what I think. So now  I think that by asking young people their views, through messaging platforms they use, that makes U-Report a really cool initiative.

I just want to keep working for something more important than myself!

The U-Report Youth Council has six members who advise UNICEF as well as participate in the running of the service, by acting as ambassadors at events and in the media. Look out for our next member to be featured soon!

See by the numbers how we are engaging youth voices for positive social change.