Wed | Dec 13, 2017

Editorial | Let’s be open and mature about mental health

Published:Friday | November 3, 2017 | 12:00 AM

There has been no recently reported data on the subject, but in 2015, an estimated 108,000 Jamaicans sought treatment at a government health facility for mental illness. Nearly 80 per cent of these patients suffered some form schizophrenia.

Those numbers seem large - about four per cent of the Jamaican population and an increase by a fifth over the average number of people who had sought help for mental illness over the previous two years. But Jamaican health officials agree that they chronically understate the problem of mental health in Jamaica and the failure, or perhaps more appropriately described - fear - of people to seek help.

It is an issue that has relevance in the midst of the seeming public outrage, at the four-year prison term, which she has already served, that was received in 2014 by Denisha Gregory, then 25, for her part in the grisly murder of her 11-year-old brother three years earlier.

Her boyfriend, Kayode Garwood, 28, was this week found guilty of murder over the same incident.

The complaint now is of the court's relative leniency to Ms Gregory, which can be explained in part by the fact that she was suffering with post-partum depression and might not have been in full mental control of her actions. Many people will sneer, but post-partum depression is real. An estimated 13 per cent of women globally suffer from depression after giving birth - manifested by episodes of crying, anxiety, irritability, severe mood swings, and intense anger and others.

Long-term surveys in the United States have shown that nearly 40 per cent who suffer from the condition experience chronic symptoms. And for those who receive medical help, half will have symptoms for up to a year. In the case of women who don't get care, 30 per cent might display symptoms for up to three years.

The prevalence of the condition in Jamaica is not known, but it is reasonable to assume that it is in line with the global average. The after-effects of childbirth, however, is not the only form of depression from which Jamaicans suffer, but mostly attempt to sweep them under the carpet. A 2008 survey estimated that 20 per cent of Jamaicans - more than half million people - aged 15 to 74 - were depressed.

 

Stigma and discrimination

 

But Dr Maureen Irons Morgan, who is in charge of mental health services, says these numbers are likely to be understated because of the fear of stigma and discrimination that comes with mental illness. Indeed, she feels that up to 50 per cent of people with depression go undiagnosed and untreated because of this reluctance to seek help.

Depression, though, as the 2015 data on schizophrenia suggest, may well be only a small part of Jamaica's problem with mental health. In 2010, psychiatrist Professor Fred Hickling and clinical psychologist Vanessa Paisley concluded that 40 per cent of Jamaicans suffered personality disorders, which was three to six times the ratio for other countries. Professor Hickling believes that it is a problem that negatively impacts Jamaica's economic and social development.

Last year, health minister Dr Christopher Tufton established a task force on mental health, whose report, although it apparently provided the basis for proposed changes to the laws dealing with mental health, has not been shared with the public. Dr Tufton must correct that obvious oversight. The issue of mental health in Jamaica, and the elimination of the discrimination stigma that surrounds the condition, requires an open, frank, and robust discussion.