KINGSTON, 11 November 2019 – More than 1,500 young Jamaicans have now accessed suicide prevention tips via the social messaging tool U-Report, thanks to a joint initiative by the Ministry of Health & Wellness and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
U-Report, pioneered by UNICEF, is a digital innovation that allows children and youth aged 13-29 years old to send and receive messages on their mobile phones.
The suicide prevention tips were sent to U-Reporters through a messaging bot on Thursday, October 10, to mark World Mental Health Day. The bot is a preprogrammed series of messages that give replies based upon the choices made or information requested by a person who messages it. In this case, the bot provided information on how to detect suicidal behaviour and where to seek help for those considering suicide.
It is the third time this year that the Ministry of Health & Wellness has partnered with UNICEF to raise awareness about adolescent health in Jamaica.
The overwhelming response to this latest U-Report bot comes against the background of urgent mental health challenges affecting children and youth. Data shows that 42% of attempted suicides treated at hospital are children. A U-Report poll also conducted over messaging last year indicated that 53% of U-Reporters had considered suicide.
Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton said there is no question of the value of the U-Report in the promotion of adolescent mental health.
“The U-Report bot on suicide was a way to educate young people and to support them and others in accessing help,” the minister said.
“It has complemented well our ‘Speak Up, Speak Now’ campaign, which seeks to breakdown stigma that has too often prevented our people from seeking needed treatment for mental illness,” he added.
According to UNICEF health specialist, Novia Condell, “data generated through U-Report polls and from national surveys is telling us that adolescent mental health requires priority attention”.
“UNICEF is therefore very pleased to work with the Ministry in its drive to offer young people a variety of avenues, including through mobile technology, to learn about mental wellness and access the support they need,” she noted.
All Jamaicans can now contact the Ministry’s new Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Helpline at 888-NEW-LIFE (639-5433) for mental health support.
Jamaicans aged 13-29 can join U-Report and access the suicide prevention tips by messaging the word “HELP” to U-Report via the two messaging services upon which it operates in Jamaica: @ureportjamaica on Facebook Messenger; or 876-838-4897 on SMS (text messages are free for FLOW customers thanks to sponsorship by the mobile network).