U-Matter youth counselling chatline passes 1,000 sessions Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

A free and anonymous counselling service, the chat line has been in operation for six months and is designed to address the widespread mental health challenges facing Jamaican youth.

The 1,000-sessions milestone is noteworthy, just ahead of World Mental Health Day on October 10.

U-Matter was launched on March 22 by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) via its U-Report youth messaging service, and the Caribbean Child Development Centre (CCDC) at The University of the West Indies (UWI) Open Campus.

Through this partnership, the Chatline is being facilitated and steered to ensure that the support needed by Jamaican youth, is no more than one text message away.

“I am delighted to see that U-Matter is gaining traction among youth. By its very name, we want them to know that what is on their mind does indeed matter and that there is a means to get support,” said Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton.

So far, 89 per cent of users indicate that they would contact U-Matter again and 86 per cent would recommend the service to a friend.

Research shows that one in every four Jamaican students has considered suicide. Up to 60 per cent of those treated at hospitals for attempted suicides are adolescents and young people under age 24.

Polls conducted by UNICEF through U-Report, which currently has more than 13,500 young subscribers called “U-Reporters”, support this evidence. In one 2018 poll, some 53 per cent of respondents said they had considered suicide.

The name U-Matter was also decided by asking U-Reporters to suggest and vote on their preferred name for the service.

“People’s state of mind is central to many issues we have in Jamaica. It leads to many of us as youth turning to violence and especially during the pandemic with added stress like school closures, poverty and abuse. As part of the U-Report Youth Council, I’m glad to have had the opportunity to help guide the service and it’s inspiring to know that some of our trained U-Matter counsellors are also in their twenties,” noted Ree-Anna Robinson, 20, a member of the U-Report Youth Council advisory group.

Volunteers who applied to train as U-Matter counsellors were sourced from the Jamaican Psychological Society and other counselling programmes. They are supervised and trained by the team at CCDC, which has experience operating helpline services in Jamaica. Currently, two cohorts of counsellors have been on-boarded with a third to begin training in November.

“We have been fortunate to see that this sustainable model – combining text counselling and volunteer counsellors – is working in Jamaica. We are also fortunate to have volunteer counsellors committed and able to listen and guide our users.

We need to remember that people are the experts in their own lives and our role is to help to guide them towards finding their own solutions and recommend them to appropriate services,” said Ceceile Minott, head of the CCDC and director of the Consortium for Social Development and Research at The UWI Open Campus.

Youth can connect with a U-Matter counsellor by messaging the word SUPPORT to U-Report at 876-838-4897 on WhatsApp and SMS (free for Flow customers); or @ureportjamaica on Instagram or Facebook Messenger.