Mental health literacy includes educational processes to recognize, manage, and prevent mental disorders. Information and knowledge about mental health and mental illness is associated with greater awareness about the importance of seeking help and treatment for mental health problems, as well as with a reduction in the stigma of mental illness.
Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes school closures, restrictions on freedom of movement and physical contact, and household financial challenges, officials in Jamaica’s Ministry of Health and Welfare and Ministry of Education recognized the urgency of preparing educators and students to prevent and adequately address mental health problems.
In this context, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), in coordination with Teenmentalhealth.org, held a mental health literacy workshop for a cohort of 50 trainers from Jamaica’s Ministry of Health and Welfare and Ministry of Education, Youth, and Information. Ministry professionals from multiple disciplines participated, including higher education administrators, health and family life instructors, guidance counselors, educational social workers, and curriculum development specialists.
“In Jamaica, some children who grow up with mental illness and reach adolescence are labeled "bad or rude" and do not receive specialized care. Thus, I am delighted to see the emphasis on mental health literacy at schools,” said a beneficiary of the training program.
The participants completed group tasks, questionnaires, and group work, together with a review of the information that will be included in the local curriculum. “Mental health training will enable students to understand and recognize when they are facing unique challenges and need help,” said Juanita Hunter, an educational social worker from Jamaica’s Ministry of Education, Youth, and Information.
Commenting on the program’s effective- ness, one participant said, “This workshop has revealed my lack of awareness about stigma ... It feels like the information provided in this work- shop has illuminated a part of my brain that was clouded over. It was very informative.”
Expert instructors will train “reference educators,” such as health and family life instructors, school nurses, guidance counselors, trainers, disciplinary administrators, and teachers from schools in Jamaica.