Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Editorial | Driving despair in Jamaica

Published:Saturday | June 4, 2016 | 6:00 AM

The manner in which persons, including women and children, are being murdered and abused in Jamaica sends the unmistakable signal that we are no longer the caring and compassionate society of bygone days.

In case we needed a reminder of the new level of callousness into which our country has descended, it was provided this week by a seemingly distraught Clarendon teenager who climbed the May Pen Bridge in an attempt to end it all.

According to news reports, while he was perched there with all hope drained from him, persons were taunting him and daring him to jump to a sure death. One woman was visibly upset that the incident resulted in her having to walk for part of her journey, not sparing a thought for the predicament of the youngster. Thankfully, the police handled the matter well and got the youngster to climb down to safety.

Attempting suicide is a traumatic event, and a range of emotions may surge. The image of that young man atop the bridge may have a lasting impact on his family and associates, and even others who saw it in the media.

Mental issues are nothing to joke about. There are abundant data to support the connection between low economic performance and mental-health issues. Population studies have found that more than 40 per cent of the Jamaican population suffers from some type of personality disorder.

 

CREATIVE APPROACHES NEEDED

 

It was mere weeks ago that we used this space to urge a change in the national discourse on mental health after a disturbed youngster was killed when he snatched a policeman's gun. Statistics show that this young man and many like him make up the 100,000 Jamaicans who sought treatment for mental issues in 2015. We are, therefore, repeating our call for creative approaches to tackle mental illness before it becomes an epidemic.

It is for this reason that we wish a successful tenure for the newly appointed Mental Health and Homelessness Task Force that has been assembled by Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton. The 16-member group is headed by Dr Earl Wright.

Even before Dr Wright begins his work, however, we know there is a resource shortage. There are not enough community mental-health officers or trained personnel to work in vulnerable environments such as schools.

Experts in the field have identified the need for intervention in schools because so many young children are presenting with mental-health problems, which often account for aggressive or disruptive behaviour. Then there is the need for interventions in inner-city communities, where the professionals say anxiety issues and depressive-type conditions are significant. The stigma attached to mental health may be a deterrent for affected persons to seek help.

More than 200 classified forms of mental illness exist, with the most common being schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, dementia and anxiety disorders. If given the proper care, many individuals and their families will learn to cope with mental disorders.

We are not privy to the terms of reference given to the task force, but we feel certain that if we are to successfully fight mental illness, we must identify the factors that drive persons to despair.

We also know that without the Government's commitment to significantly increase the mental-health budget from the current 1.5 per cent, the findings and the recommendations will not solve the problem.