(Observer)A pioneering support programme has been launched with the aim of identifying and addressing potential undiagnosed mental disorders in children in Antigua and Barbuda.
The initiative, spearheaded by the Kiwanis Club of Antigua’s AR Fusion charter, will provide early intervention to children aged five to 18 who may be facing unseen challenges. The project comes in response to the growing recognition of the importance of mental health in children’s overall development, coupled with the alarming rate of undetected mental health issues affecting today’s youth.
Dr Chenelle Joseph, psychologist and the programme’s Project Medical Practitioner, emphasised the significance of early detection, particularly in children from low socio-economic backgrounds.
“As an internal medicine physician, one of the big things in medicine is prevention. You get your vaccines screening for cancer; I believe the same thing should happen with mental health.
“And the reality is, in case nobody ever thought of it, mental health doesn’t start in adulthood. A lot of times it stems from childhood experiences that will then lead to issues as an adult, even as a grandparent well into your elderly age,” she explained.
Dr Joseph said she became a part of the project to ensure that children can get the appropriate treatment to prevent them from becoming a statistic.
Director of Education Clare Browne welcomed the initiative saying, “Today you launch arguably your biggest project yet.”
The project, he said, would help in identifying the mental health status of children and, where necessary, provide recommendations for continuing care and support.
“In our schools we are seeing alarming amounts of anxiety, depression, disruptive behaviours and social disorders. Actually, we are seeing the whole gamut of mental health issues.
“I am no alarmist but I’m persuaded that we are in the midst of a paediatric mental health crisis exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, we in education need as much help as we can get,” he said.
The Bright Minds Project will be implemented through a multi-faceted approach, involving collaboration between schools, parents, and mental health professionals. The Club has partnered with the Ministry of Education’s Student Support Unit and mental health practitioners to launch the support programme. Students who display troubling behaviour can be referred to the doctors who work with the initiative.
“Together we have the power to change and transform lives,” declared Charter President Sharon Francis.
“Once a child’s specific needs and challenges are identified through these assessments, appropriate intervention and support can be provided,” she said.
Educators from both public and private schools will be able to refer students for psychological and psychiatric assessment to determine what treatment options can be explored.
The project, which focuses on giving children equal opportunities at life, was launched on Tuesday afternoon at the John E St Luce Finance and Conference Centre. The Club’s role is to provide necessary oversight to ensure that funding for the project is appropriately allocated.