August 19, 2014

Our youth and mental illness

Tue Aug 19, 2014

The results of the 2014 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) were released last Tuesday, August 12, resulting in much rejoicing by those students whose results met or exceeded expectations.{{more}}

Coincidentally, last Tuesday was also commemorated by the United Nations as International Youth Day. Interestingly, the theme for this year’s Youth Day celebrations was “Youth and Mental Health.”

The theme is appropriate for this time, as very often, when exam results are released, the focus is placed only on the high flyers, with very little attention being paid to those whose results were disappointing. It is this time of the year, and other seasons of celebration and group activity like Christmas and Valentine’s Day that prove to be too much to bear for many teens.

A new publication from the United Nations says that 20 per cent of the world’s young people experience a mental health condition each year. According to that report, risks are especially great as they transition from childhood to adulthood – just about the time students write external exams like CSEC and CAPE.

The UN publication says stigma and shame often compound the problem, preventing the affected youngsters from seeking the support they need. For this year’s observance of International Youth Day, the United Nations wants to help lift the veil that keeps young people locked in a chamber of isolation and silence.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines, and we dare say, much of the Caribbean, issues of mental health are not taken seriously, and relatively little investment is made in mental health services. Clinically depressed persons are told to shake it off, and relatives often assume they will, in due course, get over whatever is bothering them.

This is a call for us to pause a bit and stretch a helping hand to those who need it. We need also to remember at this time students, who despite doing well, have been having difficulty finding a job or who see moving on to the next stage of education as an insurmountable obstacle because of their financial and other circumstances.

According to the UN publication, mental health is how we feel; it is our emotions and well-being. We all need to take care of our mental health, so that we can lead satisfying lives. Let us begin to talk about our mental health and the mental health of our loved ones in the same way we talk about our overall health.

Let us enable youth with mental health conditions to realise their full potential; let us show that mental health matters to us all; and let us through concern and proactivity, prevent our young people from falling into mental illness.