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Nov 18, 2021

Youth Reporter Examines How Families Can Support Young People’s Mental Heath and Wellness

Every once in a while, Belizean media invites children or adolescents to come and create stories using their own voices and the voices of their peers. The initiative this week, supported by UNICEF and the National Committee for Families and Children, gave the News Five staff the chance to work with Kathlinn Cabanas on a story dear to her heart: young people’s mental health. Although she just turned eighteen, Kathlinn quickly learned the ropes of reporting to bring you the following story. In it she explores why children and young people may not tell their families what they are going through, and gives suggestions for all of us to support them better when they do reach out.


Kathlinn Cabanas

Kathlinn Cabanas

Today I will be shedding light on some major issues in the Belizean home concerning mental illness. High academic expectations, and the dismissal and devaluing of children’s mental health issues are far too common. Many parents have created an unsafe environment in which their children are afraid to speak out. How harmful can this be and how can parents improve their response?


Kathlinn Cabanas, Reporting

I collected feedback from my peers to find out how their parents/guardians respond to their mental health issues. A 17 year old male expressed that he had never opened up to his parents because he knew they would dismiss his feelings. I spoke with Mental Health Therapist  Martine King who describes what an unsafe environment looks like in the home.


Martine King

Martine King, Mental Health Therapist

“When it comes to unsafe environments, I think it is an area where children are not allowed to express themselves, where children can’t say I don’t like that, or that doesn’t feel right, or please stop that, and know that then they will be listened to. So, it is one thing to feel safe enough or confident enough to express themselves, then to have someone, an adult listen to what they are saying, and validate what he or she is saying, even if the adult don’t necessarily fully understand it or agree with it, it is important that as a child, they have a safe space to be able to express him or herself, and to see the adult can meet those needs.”


As a solution Dr. King suggests the following.


Martine King

“Remember we have needs, so once we have water food and shelter, that great. Those are primary needs. But, as human beings we also need connection, affection, we need attention. Some of us need you know that sort of, well you did that well, that ok do more of that, or you know what that might not have been the best way to deal with that, but maybe you can do that differently. So, even when a child makes a mistake,  or we fail, because that happens no matter how old we are, that the child feels it’s ok make a mistake and there are ways in which I can improve.”


A second issue we discussed was the harmful responses parents sometimes give to their children. A peer shared with me that his parent told him that he has a roof over his head and food, hence he had no reason to be depressed.


Martine King

“Adults that play a role in the lives of children, what we say and how we behave, they are soaking up, they are really paying, whether we know it or not, or they the children know it or not, they are consciously and unconsciously soaking up what we present as adults, we are their role models. And so, what we say and how we say it will impact a child, words matter. How we say something can be very damaging, so if I’m like OMG you are very stupid, why did you do that.”

Khatlinn Cabanas, Youth Facilitator

“I like that you mentioned that children internalize what their parents or guardians tell them and they start to believe it. What are some phrases that parents could respond to their children when they say hey mom, dad I am feeling a bit mentally unstable. I am not feeling well. Instead of the parent saying it is all in your head, or you are young you have nothing to worry about, what are some of the things you can say?”


Martine King

“If we as adults can stop and pay attention and say hey I notice this, is this something you want to talk about? Am I doing something? You know, what is happening?”


Despite the negative effect the pandemic may have on their child’s academic performance, parents still maintain high expectations.  Striving to meet these can also have an effect on a young person’s mental health.

Martine King

“We usually as parents know the potential of our children, and if we feel that our children are not meeting their potential, and as parents whether we know it or not we panic very easily. So, if our kids are not doing well in school we, in our minds we go like o my gosh I wah homeless, ih wah never get a job. We already go all the way down, so then we get really anxious and then usually we get angry, and then we put that on the child, which to be honest, we want to motivate our children to do better. The trough of the matter, sometimes forcing them or threatening them might seem the way and it might work for a little bit. But, in the long term we want to engage and motivate our kids.”


So should a parent lower his/her expectations?


Martine King

“So I would say, be flexible. We need to stop long enough to get to learn our children as long as we can. To say, ok where is it that I need to pull back a bit here and when do I need to come back? It is like flexibility, rather than lower them.”


A positive change starts with a positive response.  Kathlinn Cabanas, for News 5

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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