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Amplifying Youth Voices: Prioritizing Mental Health in Global Discourse

By Dannyelle-Jordan Bailey • April 4, 2024


Frequently, the voices of youth remain sidelined, mere tokens in spaces where their perspectives should be central. We often hear the rhetoric of "for the youth, by the youth," yet too often it feels like a hollow promise, a checkbox ticked without genuine engagement. Formal gatherings are convened, seats filled with young faces, yet the discussions seem to lack the depth of understanding or genuine consideration of our concerns. It's time we break this pattern and assert our presence.

 

On March 11th, Chelsea Jordan, Vice President of Operations at Let's Unpack It, had the opportunity to attend the SIDS Global Children + Youth Summit Launch at the UN House in Barbados. This event marked the beginning of a crucial dialogue ahead of the SIDS conference in Antigua. Among the notable figures present were Ms. Ashley Lashley, the driving force behind the Ashley Lashley Foundation, Mr. Pieter Bult, UNICEF Representative for the Eastern Caribbean, and the Hon. Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda. The event commenced with insightful remarks from Mr. Kareem Smith, Senior Communications Associate at UNICEF Eastern Caribbean Office and the esteemed guests, followed by an open floor for questions and online attendees including students and stakeholders.


A student contributing to the discussion about small island developing states.

From left: Kareem Smith, Senior Communications Associate at UNICEF Eastern Caribbean Office; Ashley Lashley, Executive Director of The Ashley Lashley Foundation; and Pieter Bult, UNICEF Representative for the Eastern Caribbean listening to a contribution from a student of Harrison College at the SIDS Global Children + Youth Summit Launch at the UN House in Barbados.



Missing Pieces

Amidst the standard proceedings, a glaring but all too familiar scenario quickly played out: the omission of mental health from the discourse. It struck us, the 'yellow shirt people,' as paradoxical and disheartening. While discussions around pressing issues such as the impact of natural disasters on Caribbean youth unfolded, mental health remained conspicuously unaddressed.

 

Our representative on-site, Chelsea Jordan, seized the opportunity to raise this critical point. "When we talk about SIDS, about children, youth, and climate change, mental health cannot be overlooked," she stressed. She urged for a more holistic approach, emphasizing the interconnectedness of the various challenges brought up during the discussion. To truly grasp the struggles faced by young people in our region, we must acknowledge the intersecting layers of issues, mental health being paramount among them. Thus, the question was posed to the panel: "has there been adequate consideration given to incorporating mental health into these discussions, particularly concerning education, a pivotal aspect of mental wellbeing?"


Disappointingly, the response was underwhelming, relegating mental health once again to the periphery and addressing it merely as an afterthought to tick off a checklist.

 

Championing Inclusive Discussions

The absence of mental health discussions in important forums like the SIDS Global Children Youth Summit Launch is not an isolated incident but rather part of a larger systemic issue. It prompts us to delve deeper into the root causes of this continued omission and explore proactive measures to ensure that mental health is consistently incorporated into such discussions.

 

Firstly, raising awareness is key. Many individuals, including decision-makers and organizers of events like summits and conferences, may not fully comprehend the extent to which mental health intersects with other issues affecting youth. It's essential to educate stakeholders about the interconnectedness of mental health and various other social issues, whether they be exacerbated by socioeconomic, environmental and educational factors. This could involve conducting workshops, disseminating educational materials, or inviting mental health experts to speak at these events.

 

Furthermore, advocacy plays a crucial role. Youth advocates like our own Chelsea Jordan need to continue speaking up and advocating for the inclusion of mental health in discussions about youth issues. Advocacy can take various forms, from writing articles and blogs to directly engaging with event organizers and policymakers. By amplifying youth voices and highlighting the importance of mental health, we can collectively call for and effect change within these spaces.

 

Beyond this, fostering partnerships and collaborations is essential. Mental health organizations, educational institutions, and other relevant stakeholders should work together to ensure that mental health considerations are integrated into the agendas of events like summits and conferences. By pooling resources and expertise, these partnerships can facilitate meaningful dialogue and action on mental health issues affecting youth.

 

Moreover, institutional changes are necessary to cement and deepen the inclusion of mental health in such discussions. This could involve revising event guidelines to explicitly require consideration of mental health, establishing dedicated panels or sessions on mental health topics, or appointing mental health focal points within organizing committees. By embedding mental health considerations into the structure and processes of these events, we can ensure sustained attention to this critical issue.


Women speaking at the launch of a summit on small island developing states.

Above, Chelsea Jordan, Let's Unpack It Vice President of Operations, underscores mental health as a critical concern to youth at the SIDS Global Children + Youth Summit Launch at the UN House in Barbados.



Bringing Mental Health to the Forefront

Ultimately, ensuring that mental health is part of the discussion requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including youth, organizers, policymakers, and mental health advocates. By collectively prioritizing mental health and taking proactive steps to integrate it into youth-related discussions, we can create more inclusive and effective platforms for addressing the holistic well-being of young people.


 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Dannyelle-Jordan Bailey is the Content Creation Assistant - Digital at Let's Unpack It. She is a spirited 20-year-old activist from Kingston, Jamaica, driven by a profound empathy for the struggles faced by youth. With a keen focus on tackling the mental health crisis and educational disparities, she tirelessly advocates for marginalized voices, emphasizing the importance of intersectionality in addressing societal gaps. Despite facing challenges, Bailey's commitment to creating a more equitable world shines through her academic achievements, leadership roles, and global advocacy efforts. From representing Jamaica as a UNICEF Youth Advocate to participating in her country’s all-women’s youth parliamentary sitting, she remains steadfast in her dedication to amplifying the voices of the underrepresented. Bailey's ultimate goal is to continue serving as a compassionate steward for others, leveraging her passion for academia, mental wellness, and advocacy to foster positive change in communities worldwide.

 

In a moment of despair, we could all use a little help and support. If you're going through a rough patch, and/or dealing with thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please reach out to one of these Caribbean Mental Health Hotlines. You can also find some other resources compiled by Let's Unpack It here. Help is just one click or one phone call away.


A photo with an embedded QR code containing mental health resources in the Caribbean.

We all have a mental health story. And, when we are open enough to share it, we can build hope, dismantle stigma, and help others to know that they're not alone. So, if you're comfortable, take a moment to share your lived experience here. #CareToShare

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