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Study into priorities for poor mental health in youth

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A national youth mental health study is leading to work on priority areas to address high levels of depression, anxiety symptoms and other mental health problems among Bermuda’s young people (File image)

Better collaboration between schools and mental health providers, an emotional skills programme tailored for Bermuda and the promotion of healthy behaviours are among priority areas being explored to address high levels of depression and anxiety symptoms among Bermuda’s young people.

Daniel Cavanagh, a PhD student at the University of Melbourne, and Shawnee Basden, a psychologist, conducted a survey in the last academic year involving 76 per cent of middle school and high school students.

The study of pupils aged 10 to 19 showed that 31 per cent of those surveyed had “moderate to severe” symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Mr Cavanagh said the figure was about 5 per cent to 6 per cent higher than global averages during the pandemic.

The study also identified an urgent need to remove the stigma attached to mental health as 73 per cent of those who reported symptoms said they would try to deal with depression or social anxiety on their own.

Of those, 62 per cent cited being too embarrassed to get help as the main reason.

The study was launched to determine the levels of anxiety and depression among young people in Bermuda, with results to be presented at a series of town hall meetings.

Upcoming town halls

• CedarBridge Academy, Ruth Seaton James Auditorium, on May 27 from 5.30pm to 7pm

• Warwick Academy, Phoebe Purvis Memorial Hall, on June 4 from 5.30pm to 7pm

Government ministers have accepted invitations to attend the meetings

Once the findings are made public, Mr Cavanagh will write an in-depth thesis for a report with the final recommendations.

However, he said, the research working group has identified key priorities.

Mr Cavanagh told The Royal Gazette: “We are going to be making some recommendations, a number being around prevention.

“A big one for us is that we have to improve the social and emotional skills for young people to deal with modern-day stresses.

“We need a culturally adapted programme to the Bermuda context that teaches adolescents, and also educates parents, about mental health and how to develop certain social and emotional skills.

“Programmes from overseas don’t always work in our context. We need that programme to develop the skills that our adolescents need.

“We also aim to connect schools with major mental health service providers, including Family Centre, Child and Adolescent Services [as part of the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute] and Solstice, which is working on an anti-stigma campaign for next year.

“Beyond health, stigma is the biggest reason kids wouldn’t seek help of all the possible reasons such as cost and no treatment being available. That is not unusual in small-island communities.

“It requires a whole community effort to really tackle the problem. Schools need to be working out how to promote healthy behaviours, service providers need to develop anti-stigma campaigns, the working group needs to assist in promoting healthy behaviours and the research team would like to continue working in this context and help with the next phase.”

Daniel Cavanagh, a PhD student at the University of Melbourne (Photograph supplied)

Mr Cavanagh said the team is looking forward to having conversations with the Government and the philanthropic sectors to gain support for further research, and will bring in schools and services providers to help improve mental health among the island’s youth.

Mr Cavanagh recently presented the findings of the survey at a United Nations Children’s Fund conference in Sweden.

He said a panel of experts gave general advice about how to tackle child mental health globally.

He said: “The biggest thing was prevention efforts — we need to target the cause as opposed to targeting the symptoms. That’s why a culturally adapted programme is a good idea as well as targeting healthy behaviours.

"They said we need to be open to reimagining how we deliver care for our young people whereby we can’t just assume that they will come to us, we need to go to them.“

Statistics from the study

• 31.3 per cent of respondents reported moderate to severe depression symptoms

• 25.2 per cent reported moderate to severe anxiety symptoms

• 73 per cent who reported symptoms said they would try to deal with depression or social anxiety on their own

• 62 per cent of those who reported symptoms of depression and anxiety said they would not seek help because they were too embarrassed

• 51 per cent said they would not seek support because they thought nothing could help them

• 46 per cent said they would not seek help because of the cost

Mr Cavanagh and his team aim to start planning the programmes next January.

Once the report is finalised, they will begin putting into place the recommendations. The intention is to re-run the survey in the 2027-28 academic year to assess the success of the programmes.

He added: “These are just some of the recommendations that have come from the data but we have not yet submitted the final report. We wanted to present findings to public first.

“By analysing the data we will know more or less the direction of what the recommendations will be but we aren’t going to finalise them yet.

“We want to make sure our recommendations are peer-reviewed and informed by data and research.”

He said there was a range of international stakeholders interested in supporting the research, including Unicef, UK Health Security Agency and Oxford University.

Sponsors for the study to date included the Bermudian-based Durhager Family Programme Fund and Uplands Discretionary Trust.

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Published May 21, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated May 21, 2024 at 7:37 am)

Study into priorities for poor mental health in youth

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