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Dr's Appointment: Stripping away the taboos and stigma associated with mental illness

Published:Wednesday | April 6, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Dr Sara Lawrence, host of ‘Doctor’s Appointment’

The fact that mental illness-related stigmas are still pervasive and affect not only the afflicted, but family members and friends, Yvonne McKenzie, mother of a child who suffers from bipolar disorder, wants nothing more than to activate the necessary work to break through the taboos.

Such discussions around 'Silent Mental Illnesses' were featured on Doctor's Appointment on TVJ on Sunday.

Eve Ensler, in an essay published in 2007, wrote, "Breaking through taboos and denial is the most dangerous, terrifying, and crucial work."

McKenzie, in her remarks at the recent launch of the new health-oriented TV show, said, "We anticipate that Doctor's Appointment will begin this terrifying yet crucial work, as it breaks through the taboos, educates, reveals truth, heals and transforms. As a parent and caregiver to one whose illness is often shrouded in silence and ignorance, I am hopeful (as I am sure other caregivers are) that this series of programmes will usher in a new approach to our health here in Jamaica. I am also hopeful that employers and the nation at large will join this conversation."




The stigmatisation of mental illness is manifested by family members, members of the community, mental-health professionals and staff, and also by governmental institutions and the media. Stigmatisation is characterised by violence, fear, exclusion, isolation, rejection, blame, discrimination, and devaluation. Moreover, because of their misunderstanding of mental illness, patients and families turn to alternative treatments provided by non-professionals. In Jamaica's culture, the obeah man 'unfortunately' features quite largely in this.

"It is worthy of note that Jamaica's 2030 Development Goals were designed to leave no person behind. In this regard, to neglect those who struggle silently is to sideline a significant percentage of our human resources. Yet, we continue to sweep mental issues under the proverbial carpet," said McKenzie.

Dr Sara Lawrence, the show's host, noted the double standard often ascribed to mental illnesses.

"It's so hard to understand how, if you have high blood pressure, cancer, asthma, you take prescribed medicine. But, as soon as you have to take medication for your mind, there's such a stigma behind it," said Dr Lawrence.

"In Jamaica, with its approximately two million population, 8,000 persons have schizophrenia - the most severe mental illness of all. Added to that, a weak health-care system, mental health care is particularly inefficient and mental illness affects not only the overall health of our population, but also our economy. So we must act now."

She further stated, "As we are given this opportunity to lend voice and faces to our hidden illness, I am grateful that we who are affected, through a TV programme like Doctor's Appointment, are allowed a chance to share in this conversation; as our aim is to be a voice that clarifies, deepens awareness while hopefully beginning the process of caring and healing."

Let the conversations begin!

The Dr noted that ending stigmas surrounding mental illness will be challenging, but a feat that must proactively work to achieve.

Here are some suggested solutions as to the need to view mental illnesses:

- Mental illness does not discriminate. The affliction strikes people of every race, gender and economic background.

- Mental illness is a serious medical condition, and must be treated as such.

- It is not the devil or someone 'do yuh something'.

Dr Lawrence expressed that by openly talking about mental-health problems, it will help others realise the scientific fact that mental-health issues are medical issues, and they are not only pervasive, but they desperately need to be understood and treated.

Mental health also starts with each individual taking responsibility for self. Knowing yourself, facing that there may be something wrong through your own observation. Seek medical attention quickly. Take care of your own mental health by doing what you need to do to remain mentally well. If it's mediation, medication or meditation, do what it takes to keep your mind healthy.

- Dr's Appointment will continue next week with more on where to go for help, support and solutions. Watch TVJ, Sundays, 5:30 p.m. Should you have questions, please email: