By Dickson Igwe (Contributor)
Mental illness among youth in the United Kingdom (UK) is a useful model for the British Virgin Islands
Is there a lack of sensitivity by Joe Public to the suffering caused by mental illness, especially among children and youth in the Virgin Islands?
‘Transforming Mental Health’ is a United Kingdom (UK)-based group of mental health professionals that stated in a Guardian Newspaper Article of February 8, 2017 that 50% of mental health problems in adult life – excluding dementia – take root before the age of 15.
Mental health issues impacting young people in the UK include anxiety, depression, alcohol dependence, substance abuse and psychosis.
Three in four mental illnesses start in childhood. Three quarters of all mental illnesses start before a child reaches the age of 18.
In the British classroom, 10% of students ages 5-16 have a diagnosed mental health problem.
The tragedy is that 75% of young people with mental health problems do not receive treatment.
In the UK, there has been a rise in the time children have to wait to receive treatment for complex mental health problems. The average wait for effective treatment is ten years.
In fact, children with anxiety and depression are not being identified and helped.
In the UK, pioneering new research aims to transform the mental health of young people.
One example is the use of magnetic resonance imaging – MRI – in mapping the teenage brain.
The consequences of the preceding failure to get a hold on childhood and youth mental health are terrible.
Suicide is the biggest killer of young people in the UK. It is the leading cause of death of people between the ages of 20-34.
Suicide among the young in the UK has been on an upward trajectory in recent years.
Then young people with severe mental illnesses die 10-20 years earlier than the general population.
This is worse than the statistic for smokers, and is compounded by the fact that the mentally ill are in a poorer state of physical and nutritional health.
There is a stigma that goes along with a mental health diagnosis. Mental health illness is linked with alienation and isolation. Young people view mental health as embarrassing.
Considering the sad statistics of mental health among youth in the UK only 6% of UK health research spent on mental health.
The UK spends 22 times less on mental health than it spends on cancer and 14 times less than the country spends on dementia.
Less than 30% of mental health research is focused on young people.
Are there lessons for these Virgin Islands in the British Stats? There are!
First, if a rich developed economy that is the UK, remains tethered to the tip of the iceberg on the matter, then a tiny economy such as the Virgin Islands must indeed have even worse issues on the topic of mental health that may never appear on the radar.
The UK has underfunded the subject in terms of research and actual treatment of mental illness.
The Virgin Islands with much less of a resource base cannot be expected to do any better.
However there is one major advantage the Virgin Islands possesses in terms of fighting the youth mental illness problem.
The Virgin Islands is a micro society, of small communities. Consequently it is easier to get a handle on the problem of mental illness among children and youth in the country.
But it begins with acceptance that the problem exists, and by every single member of the community.
Then the information on the, who, what, when, why, and where, of mental illness, must be readily available to relevant service providers and professionals in both the public and private sectors.
The intelligent use of information in combating mental illness is critical.
Too many children are falling between the cracks because after diagnosis there is no secure database identifying the vulnerable, and highlighting their treatment options.
Furthermore knowing who have ‘’issues ‘’ and what these are allows for better community responses and resource targeting.
The greatest solution however rests in the DNA of community. It takes a village.
The community must act with sensitivity towards the mentally challenged.
Understanding when a child is depressed and giving that child a listening ear instead of judgment, looking deeper into the poor behavior of a young person, asking those vital questions in a humane and constructive manner that bring encouragement, talking and spending time with a child, noticing sudden changes in a child’s behavior, understanding the impact of death or marriage break up on children, but above all, showing tenderness, love and compassion, to our children and youth who require help.
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