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CARIBBEAN YOUTH DAY 2021: Address from Ms Renee Atwell, Dean, CARICOM Youth Ambassador Corps

Theme: Building Resilience: COVID-19, Mental Health & Caribbean Development

I take this opportunity to wish all young persons within the Caribbean region and in the diaspora Happy Caribbean Youth Day. Today we celebrate under the theme “Building Resilience: COVID-19, Mental Health & Caribbean Development

As we are aware, the Region is still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. More than a year has passed, and we continue to see the disastrous effects of the pandemic coupled with the unique challenges that we continue to face as Small Island Developing States. Our health systems remain burdened, unemployment remains high and far-reaching economic effects are being seen and felt. Notwithstanding, our resilience and dedication as a people will help us to charter the way forward as we fight this Pandemic.

Mental health has for a long time been a taboo topic within the region. It still is an uncomfortable conversation for many; however, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the severity of mental health issues within the region, particularly relating to the region’s youth. Many young persons have reported experiencing depression, anxiety, personality disorders and other related mental health issues due to isolation, job loss, the digital divide, and online schooling, to name a few. In fact, UNICEF (2020) concluded a survey on the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of adolescents and youth in Latin America and the Caribbean, which found that among the participants, 27% reported feeling anxiety, and 15% felt depression in the last seven days. For 30%, the main reason influencing their current emotions is the economic situation. The impacts of the worrying factors plague the minds of youth who have to deal daily with the social and economic effects of this global pandemic.

The CARICOM Youth Ambassador (CYA) Corps in partnership with youth organisations such as the Caribbean Regional Youth Council (CRYC) and The University of the West Indies Students Today, Alumni Tomorrow (UWI STAT), call on our leaders to intervene and invest resources to address the mental health issues through appropriate programmes for the region’s youth. We believe more can and should be done to develop and implement adequate responses to the global challenges of mental health, such as training for our educators, increased mental health service offerings and public education to deal with the stigmatisation of mental health.

Without sufficient support for mental health issues, our young people cannot be productive at home, school, or the workplace. They often resort to criminal activities and other forms of unproductive behaviour. We must ensure that mental health remains a priority within the region and that sufficient resources are available to deal with this regional and global issue.

Notwithstanding the challenges,  we have a lot to be proud of and a lot to celebrate. Our region’s youth excelled at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, many young persons have started businesses,   and our previously outdated ITC systems, for the most part, have been overhauled, which cater to this generation of tech-savvy youth.

As we continue our vaccination efforts to regain a new sense of ‘normalcy’, let us continue championing the cause of mental health. We can work across borders and display a true sense of regionalism when we tackle issues from a regional perspective. Undoubtedly, our history is similar, our problems are similar, and our solutions can be better when we pool ideas and resources to achieve the social and economic development needed for this region.

Happy Caribbean Youth Day 2021!

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