On their way to adulthood, many young people in Barbados face a hazardous road, chock-full of challenges that could have a lasting effect on their lives as mature persons –– including bullying, which is leading to mental health issues among the youth.
Psychotherapist Patrice Daniel made this pronouncement as she joined some of the island’s young people in observing the United Nations-designated International Youth Day yesterday, under the theme Youth And Mental Health.
“Every day our adolescents and young people are forced to confront situations that, understandably, exceed their psychological and emotional capabilities. One way that this manifests itself is damage to the mental health and their psychological well-being,” she said last night at the 3Ws Oval, Cave Hill Campus, where
the Barbados Youth Development Council (BYDC) held an awards ceremony.
“Make no mistake, a young person who is navigating harsh, inhospitable, social terrain without proper support systems and network, without these safe bases, can sustain severe damage to their mental health.
“And if you were to speak to Barbadian youth, the story of the battles that they face daily, and the monsters that keep them awake at night, it would stun and horrify you. You would hear stories of bullying, without a doubt. Barbadian youth are being bullied.”
Daniel, a counsellor at the Barbados Counselling Agency, delved into what her training and work experience had revealed as the challenges facing minors and young adults on the island. She focused on bullying as a primary “monster” faced by young people because it covered a wide spectrum of aggressive activities.
“Bullying, as you would know, can take the form of physical contact, words or more subtle actions . . . young people suffering repeated aggression, injury, discomfort, social exclusion and isolation, in classrooms, in neighbourhoods and the wider community. They grapple with this on a consistent basis through no fault of their own,” Daniel said.
She noted that such torment was endured on social media where children faced ridicule to the world. In the narrow confines of homes, she added, abuse comes in the forms of severe and senseless beatings, pain inflicted for no other reason than to cause pain, deliberate starvation and neglect, verbal abuse, insults, name-calling,
belittling and shaming.
“An abusive household simply would be one where a young person does not feel safe and welcome –– a household where she or he cannot express her or himself.”
Daniel also reported on a common abuse across the island.
“Young people, especially girls, are raped and sexually violated on what I would call a routine basis. Those with disabilities are particularly at risk,” she said.
As horrible as these experiences are for many young people, Daniel said there was also a group being frequently overlooked –– young people who face discrimination “because of sexual orientation and gender identity”.
“These youth are harassed across the island, relentlessly tormented in the classroom by peers, and also frequently by teachers –– the very ones who are supposed to protect the students,” Daniel said. “Some lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth are even ejected from their homes and forced to live on the street, or in precarious exploitative situations.”
She said when young people were subjected to one or a variety of the abusive experiences those “demons” could bring with them anxiety, depression, irritability and angry outbursts, panic attacks, social withdrawal, disruptive sleep, irregular appetite, cutting [oneself], and self-harm. The counsellor cautioned that if left untreated, those mental health symptoms could significantly reduce a person’s quality of life and ability to contribute to a sustainable society.
Quoting United Nations findings that indicate that 20 per cent of the world’s 1.2 billion young people experienced a mental health condition, she said: “In our Barbados, too many young people are fighting these monsters, alone and unassisted. A part of a society’s responsibility to its young people involves ensuring their health and safety and providing optimum conditions for them to flourish.
“This responsibility goes beyond ensuring their physical health and encompasses emotional wellness and mental health. Unfortunately, the latter is frequently neglected,” Daniel added.
BYDC president Charisse Francis said that leading up to the observation of International Youth Day in Barbados, her organization had “sought to educate and advocate on mental health illnesses and their effect on young people”. She said that as part of the process, the council had hosted an art competition for the month of June and produced a video, channelled through social media.
“Knowledge and understanding was our solution to reduce stigma and the ignorance surrounding this issue,” she said, explaining the BYDC’s approach to the issue. That all culminated in the awards ceremony for participants.
“This competition was two-fold. It gave us the chance to see how many young people on our island were aware of mental health issues and how they felt about it. And it gave the young people an opportunity to research mental health in order to enter,” Francis said.
“From the response we can see that there is some baseline knowledge on the issue. However much work needs to be done so Generation Change, which is our generation of young people, can see how all-encompassing and relevant mental issues are.”