Mental Health Literacy Is The Way Forward, Says Educators

School Mental Health Literacy Training in Jamaica Addresses Rise in COVID-19 Related Mental Health Issues

“Students will benefit from mental health training; it will allow them to understand and identify when they are facing unique challenges and need support,” said Juanita Hunter, Educational Social Worker at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information in Jamaica. She was speaking about the importance of mental health literacy for students.

Depression is a leading cause of illness and disability among adolescents, and suicide is the second leading cause of death in adolescents. 1 in 5 youth worldwide will experience a mental illness before they turn 25 and about 70% of these disorders emerge by age 14 and often go undiagnosed for up to 10 years. 

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, health and education officials forecasted an increase in the mental health needs of secondary-aged school children including the closure of schools, increased financial challenges at home and restrictions to freedoms of movement and physical contact.

In response, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) collaborated with Jamaica’s Ministry of Health and Wellness, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information and to train a cohort of trainers in mental health literacy. Utilizing the evidence-based mental health literacy approach, 50 trainers from multiple disciplines within the two ministries including senior education officers, health and family life educators, guidance counsellors, educational social workers and curriculum development specialists benefitted from capacity building.

“In the Jamaican context, [some] children [who grow into youth with mental illnesses] are branded as "bad or rude" and do not receive specialized attention. I [am therefore] overjoyed to see emphasis on mental health literacy in schools,” shared one beneficiary of the training programme.

The programme was hosted on PAHO’s Virtual Campus of Public Health and delivered twice weekly by faculty affiliated with Participants completed group assignments, quizzes and group work, along with a review of the information that is to be incorporated into the local curriculum.

Commenting on the effectiveness of the programme, one participant shared, “This workshop has enlightened my darkness on stigmas, knowingly and unknowingly, I was surrounded by mental disorders and mental illnesses. It feels like a part of my brain which was covered in grayness has now been cleared by the information covered in this workshop. It was highly informative.”

The cadre of master trainers are expected to train “go-to educators” such as health and family life educators, school nurses, guidance counsellors, coaches, deans of discipline and form teachers in schools across Jamaica.