By Sonja Robinson | June 10, 2022

Research has shown that poverty increases the risk of mental health, which is shaped by characteristics including inequalities in individuals social, economic and physical environments. Children and adolescents are especially at risk and have an increased risk of “mental health disorders which permeate into adulthood, leading to additional negative sequel and lower quality of life”. In addition, “youth with poor mental health often struggle with school, grades, decision making, and their physical health.”

In an article in the local newspaper here in Riverton, The Gleaner, the writer noted that Jamaica is on the cusp of a mental health crisis among its youth, which, if not urgently addressed, could result in the ‘costly loss of an entire generation’. Furthermore, it was noted by the team in Jamaica that since the advent of Covid 19, there has been a decline in both the academic and behavioral performance of some scholars. With this in mind, we believed that developing positive mental health in our scholars was of great importance. “Positive mental health refers to the presence of positive emotions and good functioning (in both individual and social environments).”

With the help of local clinical psychologist Dr. Megan Swaby, the IntSam team designed a series of wellness workshops for our scholars. The aim of the workshops is to provide scholars with the skills they need to develop positive mental health. The workshops were developed around the theme of ‘healthy mind, healthy me’. The first workshop was held on Saturday May 28th at Boone Hall Oasis. 

The day started with praise and worship, followed by a series of activities led by Dr. Swaby. She led a discussion with the scholars about the mental baggage they carried. The discussion was followed by an activity which had scholars carrying their chairs up and down the field. At the end of the activity, they were asked how they felt doing this. The scholars noted how heavy the chairs felt after a while. Dr. Swaby likened this to how heavy the mental baggage we carry can be and how it often drags you down. She then led them in an activity of filling balloons with all the mental baggage they carried and releasing them.

Once they were finished with these activities, the scholars were allowed some time to relax before lunch. A few choose to play football or swing on the swing set onsite. Did I mention these were our 16 – 18 year old scholars? On swing sets! They had a grand ole’ time.

After the down time, scholars sat down for lunch, where Dr. Swaby walked them through dining etiquette. During this time, we also had a brief prize giving session. Scholars who could remember the main points of the workshop were given prizes. The day ended on a high with one of our scholars offering a vote of thanks.

I believe these workshops will benefit not only our scholars’ mental health but also introduce them to a new environment, and allow for rest. “For we know that even Jesus took sabbaticals. He went away to be reenergized through prayer, quiet meditation, and to spend personal time with close friends.”

Psalm 23:2-3 –
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

Dr. Sonja Robinson

Program Director (Jamaica)

Sonja holds a PhD. in Workforce Development and Education and and a Master’s in Communication for Social and Behavior Change. With a transdisciplinary professional background, she has played the role of counsellor, mentor, trainer and educator. Sonja believes in living a life of purpose and service.