A charity for “at-risk” teens is seeing more clients with the start of mental health problems, according to its executive director.
Michelle Wade, of Teen Services/Teen Haven, put this down to stress caused by issues such as violence, poverty and an inability to seize opportunities.
But she added that the challenge lies in getting their clients to accept the professional help they need to live successful lives.
“That’s a big concern to me because you have to convince a young person to try to not just have the counselling at teen services but also go to another level and have psychiatric or psychological counselling.
“Without labelling them or making them feel less than a person, how do you get them to understand that this will help you be a better person or cope?
“When you have a mother that is in that predicament, she can’t be helpful to her child if she is not feeling well mentally herself. I think that’s key that we need to pay attention to that.”
Ms Wade has seen this increase in clients with the beginning of mental health problems in the past five or six years.
She added that this is “prevalent particularly when you are around them 24/7 and you get to see patterns”.
“This is what I am finding. I know that the other agencies are experiencing it as well.”
Ms Wade believes it is a result of stress, which can lead to depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. She said: “Young people are very stressed out living in poverty, living in violence, living in fear, not able to tap into the opportunities.”
Ms Wade added that this is compounded by then “having young children and not having food for them and the nursery fees are high — I can go on and on and on”.
She said people either don’t know how to access the help or don’t have money and don’t know how to access resources.
Ms Wade said genetics could be another component and added that catching it early would be “ideal” but the young person has to agree to accept that help.
She spoke to The Royal Gazette along with Olga Scott, the charity’s first executive director, as Teen Services celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Ms Wade said she was very proud that they had been able to provide a service that had endured for five decades.
Teen Services, founded in 1967, provides social services including counselling and education to at risk young people between the ages of 11 and 25.
The residential component, Teen Haven, was added about ten years later and mothers with young children are able to stay for up to a year while they receive support.
Ms Wade explained: “The target population is really girls that are at risk and particularly young mothers.”
She said at risk behaviour would be anything “that they’re exposed to or participating in that is not good for their healthy development” and the development of their children.
This includes homelessness, poverty, lack of academic or parenting skills, domestic violence, drug abuse and gang violence.
Mrs Scott said there had been a big reduction in referrals over the years and she pointed out that pregnant teens are now allowed to stay in school.
Ms Wade said Teen Services will support them in that setting but added that “those numbers are not as high as it used to be”.
Mrs Scott put this down to more awareness around birth control, better access and more education.
Ms Wade said the lower referrals could also be down to people seeking out other services locally or overseas.
But Ms Wade said they are seeing more pregnancies among women who “might not have finished high school, they’re 20, 21 to 25, and they are having difficulty”.
She added: “The main thing is to really think about the children that are born, that they deserve a healthy development.
“And in order to do that you have to start with the mum first to ensure that she is getting comprehensive services that she requires to be able to cope and become independent in the society rather than depending on financial assistance or the many programmes that provide goods in kind and what have you for families that are in poverty.”
Education has also always been a big component of Teen Services.
Ms Scott, who was recruited from New York in the late sixties to start a pregnancy prevention programme for young teenagers in Bermuda, discovered a critical education deficit “because once they became pregnant, they could no longer attend school”.
She said they set up the Continuation School for pregnant teens and young mothers to be able to continue their studies.
These were combined with parenting classes, with the mothers able to bring their infant children. As schools became more accepting, some were then able to return.
Mrs Scott said: “This has enabled so many young women in Bermuda to complete their education, not only in high school but university and are playing significant roles in our community today.”
And Ms Wade said that although they had to close the school, they still offer GED tutoring and some of their clients have enrolled in Bermuda College classes.
As they worked with the young girls, Mrs Scott said they also realised the need for a residential service because some of the clients could not stay at home and they took over Teen Haven when it closed.
Teen Services/Teen Haven also used to host the Teen Conference, which included a talent show and the Outstanding Teens Awards Banquet. The latter is the only component still running.
Mrs Scott said she was thrilled to see the son of a former student nominated for last year’s awards. She said the mother thanked Teen Services repeatedly.
Ms Wade added: “That’s why it’s important to invest in helping young families because this is the result. The mother was able to sustain herself and build a healthy development where her son can be nominated.”
Both Mrs Scott and Ms Wade thanked the Government for their continuous support, as well as sponsors and board members.
Ms Wade added: “There are many that have helped us and believed in our mission and our vision and they believe in young people. Without them, we wouldn’t be operable.”
She said the charity would continue to “provide services that are vital to the community and young people, particularly at risk girls”, while doing their best to remain relevant and fill gaps in the community.
Ms Wade added that they are looking for volunteers to help host their annual Tag Day on February 2, and to interview teens for the awards ceremony, which will be held at the Heritage Worship Centre on March 10.