Youth leader calls for focus on mental health
Minister of Local Government and Community Development,Desmond McKenzie (third second left) with the youth mayors.(Photo: Anthony Lewis)

FALMOUTH, Trelawny — Using his own challenges to highlight the severe impact the novel coronavirus pandemic is having on the country's young people, deputy youth mayor of Clarendon Denver Smith has called on the Government to give greater attention to youngsters' mental health.

Smith made the call during a presentation at the Local Government and Community Month 2021 Youth Mayor's Forum held at the Trelawny Municipal Corporation building in Falmouth, Trelawny, last Wednesday. It was hosted by the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development.

Following the forum,which was held under the theme: 'Local Government At The Forefront Of Building Back Stronger', Smith explained to the Jamaica Observer the rationale behind his call.

“Many times we have been overlooked but the youths would have been really affected by the pandemic in an adverse way because a lot of their plans [for] the future would have been halted. Some of them were redirected in certain paths that were not in the initial [plans] and a lot of these have caused a lot of stress and trauma on their mental stability, their ability to move forward and to think of ways that they can get over this situation,” stated Smith.

He suggested that the Government, working through local municipalities, community clubs and similar organisations, should try to engage with youngsters and help them “back to the point where they are able to see a future, realign their goals and to move forward as we begin to build back stronger”.

Smith, who was transitioning into university during the onset of the pandemic, spoke of the mental toll the health crisis took on him, his feelings of depression and wanting to give up. He had to dig deep within himself to find the strength to continue, he said.

“It was really a challenging time for me and I had to sit down and think about it, align my plan A, plan B and everything, basically. I had to do some self-introspection… in order to get over my depression as it relates to this pandemic,” added the Northern Caribbean University student who pointed out that other youth may not be strong enough to overcome similar challenges on their own.

Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie, who gave feedback on the suggestions put forward by the various youth mayors during the event, later told the Observer that mental health is something the Government takes seriously.

He said the Administration of which he is a part has been working with the health ministry and other agencies to address the issue through the poor relief departments of the respective municipal corporations.

“There is some effect in terms of mental health and that is why I have invited them [youth mayors] to meet with the Social Development Commission (SDC) so that they will be able to put in perspective their views and recommendation, so that the SDC will be able to take on some of these positions and use it going forward… to see how best we can improve on the problems that many people are experiencing,” said McKenzie.

He told the forum that he is to meet with representatives of the SDC to discuss the young mayors' proposal to establish stronger youth clubs and build stronger and greater alliances. He hopes to arrange a sit-down between all youth mayors and the SDC before the Yuletide season. This, he said, is to facilitate the young leaders' efforts to put forward programmes they would like to have implemented within their respective parishes.

During the event McKenzie also lauded forum participants. In addition to Clarendon, he singled out the St Thomas and St Mary youth mayors who spoke about the benefits of a new highway coming into their parish and how the Government should respond to the needs of young people while taking their cultural needs into consideration.

“This is the most outstanding youth forum that we have had since the inception because what is coming out of today will not be lost here. It will not be a mere discussion, but there are issues that we have to build on,” declared McKenzie.

“The hopelessness that many people are preaching about our future and where we are going as a country is rubbish, because what you all need is for people to believe in you, to understand and to respect your views,” the minister told the youngsters. “Your views are critical and this Government is not [unaware] that young people are going to be the trailblazers.”

SMITH... I had to do some self-introspection to get over my depression
McKENZIE... it will not be a mere discussion but there are issues that we have to build on
BY ANTHONY LEWIS Observer writer

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