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Why Invest in Adolescent Health?

Adolescence is a time of dramatic physical and psychosocial change through which children

transition into adults. It this during this stage of development, that the patterns of behaviour and lifestyle which impact current and future health become engrained. Adolescence therefore represents a unique opportunity to invest in holistic health care and potentially transform future health outcomes for the Caribbean region. In order to support young people to reach their maximum potential in adulthood, strategies should ideally target all aspects of their lives.

Traditionally it was believed that as compared to other stages of the life-course, the teen years were the “healthy years”. Through decades of research and observation, however it has been identified that adolescents have unique healthcare needs which unfortunately remain largely unmet. These needs include medical assessments, psychosocial supports, educational guidance as well as behavioural change strategies to address risk-taking or peer influenced negative activities. Young people aged 10-24years in the Caribbean constitute a fifth of the population. A large proportion of our young people are exposed to high levels of violence, sexual misadventure, alcohol, tobacco and drug use as well as poor nutritional habits, obesity and mental health crises. The additive effects of increasing chronic medical illnesses and the worsening exposure to negative life events results in higher risk for morbidity or death in young adulthood unless effective intervention is implemented.

An important aspect of approaching adolescent physical and mental health is the recognition of the multi-faceted developmental processes occurring during the teen years and the need for specific approaches to young people to optimize their engagement and thus impact their behaviour and lives. Adolescence is a biopsychosocial process, which means that physical, psychological and social developmental changes are all occurring simultaneously. There is wide variation in the ways through which these developmental pathways happen; which largely explains why some teenagers are physically mature yet emotionally child-like, while others who may appear younger seem to have better decision making or self-management skills. The development through adolescence does not always occur in a uniform or completely synchronous manner. To add to the complexity, the positive

life skills which help to mitigate the harmful exposures of modern world, such a coping skills,

communication skills, self-esteem and resilience also develop at different rates. These factors lead to the alternating periods of turbulence and calm of adolescence. The majority of young people will navigate this period without major crisis, however significant conflict, stress and emergence of mental health disorders are occurring with greater frequency in adolescents and require prompt intervention. Investing in adolescent health yields the triple benefit of healthier young people now, healthier future adults and a healthier future generation. With this in mind, the future vitality of our Small Island Developing States relies on intentional and consistent investment in adolescents, today.

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