Teen Hub providing a safe place for youth
In January last year, Antoine Lodge lost his aunt with whom he shared a very close relationship. Her death sent him into depression, and the 21-year-old had difficulties coping.
“It really took a toll on me because she was my safe space … my mother. I was living with her and she played a very integral role in my development and where I am now,” he shared with The Gleaner.
It was a friend who encouraged him to visit the Teen Hub at the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre in St Andrew.
The centre was established in 2017 by the Ministry of Health in partnership with UNICEF Jamaica and offers free STI testing, guidance counselling, career development, and reproductive health sessions for youth between the ages of 10 and 24.
Lodge admitted that when he finally made the decision to attend a counselling session there in August, it changed his perspective.
“When I came here and I started letting it out, it gave me guidance as to how to overcome and how to let out the grief that I was struggling with,” he said.
Although he had the option of confiding in relatives, Lodge explained that this would not have been the easiest option for him as it was somewhat usual.
“I wanted to speak with someone who I don’t have to see otherwise, who I can become vulnerable with, and I don’t have to worry about my business going out, or them looking at you any way,” he said.
Going to these counselling sessions – and being a part of the community that the Teen Hub facilitates – inspired the Washington Gardens resident to be more involved in his community and he now works at the MultiCare Youth Foundation that targets at-risk youngsters.
The centre has had a similar impact on Chadae King, a 22-year-old who also described it as a “safe space” for him.
It is here that the Norbrook resident, who lives in a single-parent household with his mother and younger sibling, said he has found his role model.
“When I need advice, … this is where I go. Sometimes when I’m not at work, I’ll stop by here when I’m on my lunch break, or just to breeze out,” he said. “I really appreciate that this is here.”
But for King, the centre’s impact could be more widely felt if the facility was bigger.
And while that request may not soon be forthcoming for the Half-Way Tree location, it is one that Health and Wellness State Minister Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn said will be filled when the centre is replicated in St Thomas. A much bigger facility is set to be opened in Morant Bay next month.
“After listening to these stories, it definitely reinforced that we need more safe spaces. I think that is something that is actually missing in our island – safe spaces for our children to really have an outlet, to have their own peers who they can identify with, and there is no judgement, and I think that is what this Teen Hub is providing,” she told The Gleaner.
UNICEF Representative Olga Isaza believes this is an initiative that can be replicated globally.
And while lauding the success that the centre had had in addressing the mental health concerns of teens, Cuthbert-Flynn asserts that spaces like these are integral to combating suicide rates among young people.
“Suicide was not something we heard about years ago and we’re hearing more and more teenagers taking their lives. Why? Possibly because there [are] not enough safe spaces; they don’t know where to go and who to speak to,” she said.
In 2021, Jamaica recorded 34 suicide cases. This increased to 64 in 2022. For January alone this year, there were 14 cases recorded.
Meanwhile, Centre Manager Rory Roberts said that he takes great pride in the facility being very inclusive.
“Once you fall within the age group, we nah go turn yuh back. You have persons with disabilities, they love here, they don’t feel judged so they’ll come here, persons of the LGBT community, they’ll come here. It’s just creating a space where young people can feel free to express themselves and be themselves,” he said.