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The group of young people on Bonaire who independently seek help for mental problems is growing, according to Mental Health Caribbean. Yet the organization believes that many more young people may be needing help.

According to Herman Atsma, team leader of the Child and Youth department, young people with mental complaints have not received sufficient care for a long time. “Worldwide you see that roughly 5 percent of young people (about 250 on Bonaire) need mental health care. There has been some kind of neglect here, so we don’t even know a large part of it yet.”

‘Problems more serious than in European Netherlands’
The Child and Youth department has existed at Mental Health Caribbean since 2017. “Before that time, a psychiatrist was flown in sporadically several times a month. This means that it was not always possible to provide the extensive treatment that may have been necessary.”

“You also see problems that are more serious than in the European Netherlands,” says Atsma. “The family situations are more complicated: children who have to sleep in their parents’ bed due to poverty, who have to fend for themselves because parents have multiple jobs, small houses where living conditions are not optimal or domestic violence.”

Healthcare psychologist Eline Young recognizes this. “As an emergency service, you therefore have few options to improve the situation. That makes it extra difficult.”

Many young people with trauma complaints
Young helps young people with different types of mental problems, but she sees trauma complaints occurring in many young people. “For example, because they have experienced domestic violence or sexual abuse.”

Young also sees a difference between boys and girls. “For girls it is more about problems that they relate to themselves, such as self-image complaints. In boys you see it more likely to emerge in behavioral problems.”

“Some find themselves in trouble because they grew up in poverty. Some have to do with eating disorders. But you can also think, for example, of young people who move here and develop depressive complaints because they have difficulty connecting. Or to young people with autism who have difficulty with social contact in their own way,” says Young.

“An unstable home situation causes children to become unbalanced more quickly and as teenagers they will suffer as a result,” says Atsma. “Then problems often start to become noticeable, because their behavior becomes more extreme.”

Young people take initiative more often
Young sees that more and more young people are taking the initiative to seek help. She thinks that is a good development. “And sometimes they also ask if a friend can come along, which is very nice.”

Yet Young sees that the shame is still great in most cases. “Many young people are afraid of stigma: people will think I’m crazy because I go to a psychiatrist.”

“We still see people who only seek help at the very last minute,” says Atsma. “Only when they really can’t keep up anymore or when the school decides.”

Parents don’t show up
From August to October, courses are given on Bonaire for parents to recognize mental complaints in young people. “Seeking help for psychiatric complaints is not as obvious here as it may be in the European Netherlands.”

“If a child breaks a leg, they take their child to a doctor as a matter of course, but a large number of parents do not show up for a therapy session with their child,” says Atsma. “No shows mainly come from parents who have a lot on their plater or are doubtful, but you really need awareness from the parents,” says Young.

What it takes
In 2022, several aid organizations were merged under the name Sentro Akseso Boneiru. This should be more clear so that young people ask for help more easily, Young believes. “But that takes time.”

Families must also come into the picture earlier, so that children are also helped. “That prevents problems later in life. But that may take another generation before it becomes embedded,” says Atsma.