The Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) with support from the European Union on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 released the findings of their newest study titled: “Mind the Gap: The Inadequacy of Mental Health Services for Children”. The study, led by researcher, Ms. Toni-Ann Robinson, detailed the shortfalls in mental health services for children. Jamaican children are in need of more and more available, specialized, and consistent mental health services. Despite national health authorities’ commitments and the progress made towards a decentralised form of mental health care over the past 40 years, mental health services and interventions that are geared towards the treatment and support of the nation’s children have not been strategically implemented. The report also provides recommendations to bridge the identified gaps, and move the state closer to an expanded, effective, and sustainable mental health care system for youth, in as short a time as possible.
Burden of Mental & Behavioural Disorders in Jamaican Children
Although no definitive nation-wide study exists that measures the incidence of psychiatric and psychological disorders in Jamaica’s children, there are several isolated studies, as well as data gathered by the Child Guidance Clinics (CGCs), that offer some insight into the prevalence of certain disorders. The existing data suggests that Jamaican children are on par with global averages of children’s mental disorder prevalence. Globally, between 10 to 20 percent of children and adolescents are afflicted by a mental disorder. A 2014 study of 1,185 adolescents in Jamaica found that approximately 15 percent displayed depression and anxiety symptoms. Estimates by specialists in the field state that 160,000 or 20 percent of Jamaican children have a mental disorder, and 40,000 or 5 percent have serious mental disorders. Another survey done in 2019, which assessed broader indicators of mental and emotional wellbeing, showed that 45 percent of adolescents in Jamaica had consistently experienced anxiety symptoms ranging from feelings of nervousness, restlessness, worry, and annoyance. Sixty percent of children in state care exhibit psychosocial problems, and 76 percent exhibit maladjusted behaviours, including social withdrawal, aggression, and suicidal tendencies.
While the available data from public institutions tasked to provide mental health care for children may be inconclusive in precisely indicating the nation’s mental health burden for children, the data does affirm the presence of the gamut of psychiatric and behavioural disorders, and suggests that Jamaica is within the global average of disease burden. There are other cultural, developmental, and epidemiological factors present in the Jamaican context that further imply that mental health challenges are likely to be prevalent, factors which like increase the existing estimates. They estimate that 120,000 Jamaican children are estimated to have a mental disorder, and 40,000 are estimated to have serious mental disorders.
The study’s findings and recommendations were presented by CAPRI's Director of Research, Dr Diana Thorburn, who was joined by Dr Judith Leiba, Director of Child & Adolescent Mental Health at the Ministry of Health and Wellness, and Ms. Jhanille Brooks, Director of the Jamaica Mental Health Advocacy Network for a panel discussion. The panel was moderated by CAPRI’s Director of Advocacy, Dr Leanne Levers, and streamed on the thinktank’s YouTube channel, Twitter account (@CAPRICaribbean), Facebook page (@CAPRICaribbean) and capricaribbean.org.