Mental Health Support Chatline for Young Persons Launched

Mental Health Support Chatline for Young Persons Launched

Young persons, aged 16 to 24, have been provided with another safe space to talk about their challenges and concerns, with the launch of U-Matter, a new mental health support chatline catering to this cohort.

The chatline was developed at a cost of $12 million by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Caribbean Child Development Centre (CCDC) at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Open Campus.

It was officially launched during a ceremony at the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ Emergency Operations Centre in New Kingston, on Tuesday (March 22).

Through one-on-one messaging, U-Matter connects youngsters to trained counsellors who can give them support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, free of charge.

The chatline is anonymous and whatever is discussed will be held confidential.

To access the service, youngsters can text “support” to (876) 838-4897 on WhatsApp and SMS (free for Flow customers); or message @ureportjamaica on Facebook Messenger.

Speaking at the ceremony, Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton, said the chatline is a timely and appropriate intervention, particularly given the impact the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had on young people’s mental wellness.

“I think it places very sharply into context the challenges of our times, for all sorts of reasons, COVID being a real visible, tangible manifestation of what those challenges are as it relates to mental health,” he said.

He noted that many young people have had to deal with the many side effects of the pandemic, including anxiety and the loneliness of being confined to online learning with no psychosocial support, interaction with friends, with teachers; and some have lost their loved ones.

These factors, he said, have contributed to the rise in mental health disorders among the youth.

Citing the 2018 World Mental Health Day Report, Dr. Tufton noted that one in five young people suffer from a mental illness, and that, globally, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds.

Locally, the 2016 Mental Health and Wellness Task Force Report highlighted that four out of every 10 Jamaicans at some point in their life, will experience some form of mental health-related challenge.

Minister Tufton said that this fact, coupled with the 2017 Global School-based Student Health Survey, which revealed that 25 per cent of adolescents 13 to 17 years old seriously considered suicide in the 12 months prior to the survey, drives home the need for additional mental health support for the nation’s youth.

“I really encourage our young people to take advantage of this new service,” the Minister advised, noting that the goal is to renew hope and to let the youth understand that help is available for them.

In her remarks, UNICEF Country Representative to Jamaica, Mariko Kagoshima, said UNICEF is “delighted to partner with the Ministry of Health and Wellness and the CCDC to bring this critical service to young Jamaicans”.

“The U-Matter chatline is designed to provide the support young people urgently need, and it will do this in a space that feels comfortable to them – via their mobile phones. U-Matter provides high-quality emotional support right at their fingertips; all they have to do is send a message to get the support they need,” she said.

Director, CCDC, Ceceile Minott, informed that the chatline, which took two years to develop, is the first of its kind in Jamaica and is powered by UNICEF Jamaica U-Report messaging technology.

U-Report is a social messaging tool and data-collection system developed by UNICEF to improve citizen engagement, inform leaders, and foster positive change.

The U-Matter service will be operated by counsellors who volunteered through the Jamaican Psychological Society (JamPsych) and were trained by the CCDC.

It will be funded with technical support by UNICEF for the first two years of operation, after which it will be managed by the Ministry of Health and Wellness.


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