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Child mental health is a hot topic now, and rightly so. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many challenges that have affected adults and children equally.
Although COVID-19 is not responsible for mental ill-health in some of our children, COVID-19 has exacerbated an already dire situation for many. This article is an overview of the status of child mental health in Jamaica.
What is Mental Illness?
Mental illness is a condition that involves changes in emotions, thinking or behaviour, or it can be a combination of all these.
Mental illness brings distress to the individual, and it affects their daily functions in family, social and work life.
According to research, 34% of people have an onset of a mental disorder before the age of 14, while 48.4% have an onset before age 18.
People with a mental disorder have a decreased life expectancy of 10-15 years when compared to the general population, and some risk factors for child mental ill-health are:
2. Physical punishment or violence
4. Maternal depression
7. Drug abuse
Considering the risk factors above and knowing that the reality of life in Jamaica for many of our children involves some or all of these, what should we expect in an overview of the status of child mental health in Jamaica?
Status of Child Mental Health in Jamaica
Findings from a recent report by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) highlighted some worrying but not surprising information on the status of child mental health in Jamaica, including major inadequacies.
Some of the inadequacies in child and adolescent mental health services include underfunding of mental health services, lack of reliable data on child mental disorders, a limited number of professionals to meet the needs of children and long wait times for appointments.
CAPRI’s situational analysis of child and adolescent mental health in Jamaica also revealed that 45% of children have experienced anxiety symptoms, 60% of children in State care have exhibited psychological problems, with 76% exhibiting maladjusted behaviours.
Meanwhile, 89% of children in Jamaica have experienced physical punishment at home. The twenty-three Child Guidance Clinics across the island see 8,000 children annually which is significantly lower than the approximately 160,000 who need help as the most common child mental health disorders are depression, anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia, conduct and psychotic disorders.
One impact of COVID-19 on child mental health in Jamaica is that there has been a 9% decline in attendance at the Child Guidance Clinics since the start of the pandemic.
Noting the status of child mental health in Jamaica and the inadequacies of child mental health services, the report made the following recommendations:
1. Expand and scale up existing, evidence-based programmes that address children’s mental health needs.
2. Improve child mental health data collection and management.
3. Extend the behaviour management module of the teachers’ training curriculum to incorporate a mental health component.
4. Include mental wellness in the Health and Family Life Curriculum in schools.
5. Provide structured orientation and training for parents/guardians of children being treated in the public system.
6. Integrate training in mental health diagnosis and treatment in primary care, school guidance counsellors, police officers, PATH social workers, and judges.
7. Strengthen the governance system towards more structured, systematized inter-agency collaboration on children’s mental health.
8. Increase remuneration for mental health practitioners.
The CAPRI report is important because it highlights the inadequacies of mental health services for children; the consequence of inaction will be a burden for society to bear.
Amidst the warnings of a crisis in child mental health exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the government needs to take note and take action.