The Ministry of Health and Wellness, in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Caribbean Child Development Centre (CCDC) at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Open Campus, on March 22, 2022 launched “U-Matter” – a new chatline to provide mental health support for Jamaican youth aged 16-24.
The chatline will operate via mobile messaging through the “U-Report” platform created by UNICEF. Young people who need support can send messages at any time on their mobile phones to connect with trained counsellors. There is no cost to use the service.
U-Matter is designed to address the widespread mental health challenges facing Jamaican youth. Research shows that one in every four Jamaican students has considered suicide. The Ministry of Health and Wellness reports that up to 60% of those treated at hospitals for attempted suicides are adolescents and young people under age 24.
Polls conducted by UNICEF through U-Report, which currently has 13,000 young subscribers called “U-Reporters”, strongly support this evidence. One poll in 2018 highlighted that 53% of respondents said they had considered suicide.
"This is a critical time for UNICEF and our partners to introduce a service like this for young people in Jamaica, who are grappling with mental health challenges that were worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said UNICEF Jamaica Country Representative Mariko Kagoshima, speaking at the launch event. “U-Matter will provide a safe, anonymous and non-judgmental space where young people can seek the support they need.”
“The experience of the COVID pandemic has come with many side effects. One such is the impact on our young people. They have had to stay at home, many times alone, and have become lonely, anxious and distracted from the things they look forward to as they grow up,” noted Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton.
“Today we offer support in the form of a chatline that provides for them the chance to engage trained counsellors for help. I encourage our youth to take advantage of this new service,” the Minister added.
The U-Matter service will be operated by counsellors who volunteered through the Jamaican Psychological Society (JamPsych) and were trained by the CCDC.
“U-Matter will provide young persons above the age of 16 years a safe space to be able to access a counsellor via text anywhere, anytime and maintain anonymity. It allows youth to share freely and receive support using what is their preferred and most easy-to-access medium of mobile messaging,” said Ceceile Minnott, Head of the CCDC and Director of the Consortium for Social Development and Research at the UWI Open Campus.
U-Matter was named by 25-year-old U-Reporter Sihle Atkinson. “Being healthy means that we have to take care of all of us, and this includes our mind,” she said. “I hope that U-Matter will be a reminder that someone cares about you, and you don't have to shoulder your burdens alone.”
U-Matter is being funded with technical support by UNICEF for the first two years of operation, and thereafter will be managed by the Ministry of Health and Wellness.