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Jhanille Brooks | Come face to face with mental health

Published:Saturday | July 2, 2016 | 7:00 AMJhanille A. Brooks

Mental health. Here we go again, right? Some persons have perhaps stopped reading after the first two words. Or perhaps some will take the time to read in light of the recent passing of entertainer Delus. Whatever the reason is, I urge you to pay attention to this very important facet of our lives.

Mental health: It's those two seemingly taboo words that loom like the pink elephant in the room. Once again, let me highlight that mental health and mental illness are not synonymous, similar to how health and sickness are not. Mental health is described as the 'psychological state of someone who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioural adjustment'. There is a spectrum that spans from optimal mental health to mental illness, and you and I sit somewhere along that line and at any given moment, life's circumstances can move forward or backward.

We tend to think of mental health/illness as 'those people over there' and look at them with pity, fear or disregard. You see, in our eyes, mental illness only affects a small portion of our population and the rest of us are fine and dandy skipping through the meadows.

 

HEALTH AND STABILITY

 

We would much rather focus on 'bigger issues' such as human rights, child abuse, the failing economy, gender equality, and crime and violence. These are all issues of importance and all need to be addressed to secure the prosperous future of our country. However, I argue that without incorporating the notion of good mental health, many of these issues will not be achieved, or at the very least, not achieved to full potential.

We all have a mental and emotional component of our being, which cannot be taken away from us, and further, cannot be subtracted from our personal development or national growth. How can we achieve Vision 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals without a populace that is healthy and stable? This concept of mental health and its many aspects - emotional intelligence, coping skills, empathy, anger management, stress management - have too often been omitted from the bigger picture.

Human rights are for all, including those living with mental illness. Many marginalised groups are fighting the battle for equality and fairness, but persons living with mental illness are more often than not still left stigmatised and discriminated against. Employers often terminate employees once a diagnosis of mental illness has been discovered, which adds to the unemployment rate and cripples economic growth.

There have been many child abuse-prevention activities over the past couple of months. We have marched, participated in public forums, watched videos and documentaries and heard artistes sing about it. This is a big issue that has gone on for decades, and I am glad we are now targeting it on a national level. However, I very rarely hear of the mental and psychosocial support that are given to the victims, their families and yes, dare I say it, the perpetrators. Though the wounds may heal and the scars may fade, the victim and their families were also psychologically traumatised and need to heal in order to continue a wholesome life. How can we pay greater attention to this?

 

MANY ISSUES

 

More programmes have come on stream to place at-risk youth into skill training and employment. However, many of these youth have emotional/mental issues that made them at risk in the first place; many have witnessed and lost loved ones to violence, have abandonment issues, and have been neglected/abused. Isn't placing them in programmes without giving them the requisite counselling services the same as putting a Band-Aid on only half the cut?

The failing economy has been stressful for most of us to manage. The rising prices of flour, chicken, bread, sugar ... oxygen! Everything is going up, along with our blood pressure and stress level, and research has proven over and over again that chronic, high levels of sustained stress have grave physical and psychological effects.

The World Health Organization and the World Bank recently convened a meeting of global minds to discuss world issues, including mental health. Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, stated that the global economy loses US$1 trillion every year in productivity because of mental illness.

Another presenter highlighted that investing US$1 million in treating anxiety and depression will yield a US$4-million return in better health and ability to work.

It is imperative that as we move towards Jamaica's Vision 2030, more emphasis be placed on mental-health awareness and treatment. Investing in the mental health of our human resources is paramount in achieving sustainable development goals.

- Jhanille A. Brooks is chairperson of the Jamaica Mental Health Advocacy Network. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jhanille_brooks@hotmail.com.