Wed | Jan 23, 2019

J'cans facing unprecedented stress, says psychiatrist Abel

Published:Thursday | August 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

Emphasising that stress among Jamaicans is at unprecedented high levels, noted psychiatrist Dr Wendel Abel is calling for what he described as the injection of extraordinary leadership to pull Jamaicans from the abyss.

"I have not seen so many people having difficulty to make ends meet and cope on a daily basis," asserted Abel. "It is important to note that when countries are going through stress, what is required is extraordinary leadership," he added.

Abel warned that high stress levels lead to worsening of terminal ailments such as hypertension and diabetes, among other deadly diseases.

"For some people who are stressed, it may manifest itself in physical illness - blood pressure and sugar going out of control," he said.

Challenges and opportunities

At the same time, Abel stressed that crisis such as that being experienced in Jamaica, presents significant challenges and opportunities. "So it depends on how you perceive it and how you respond to it," he said. "A part of my responsibility as a professional is to change this mindset."

He said that stress-riddled Jamaicans, experiencing difficulty coping economically, are not confined to patients, but persons with whom he interacts on a daily basis. "That is why opportunities are missing us because we 'catastrophise' too much," he complained.

Added Abel: "The economic reality is that we do know these are very stressful times in the country ... outside of my professional interactions with people, this is clearly one of the most stressful periods in our history."

He stressed that there is, therefore, a need for leadership that is going to inspire and encourage people not only to accept the challenges, but to see the opportunities in these challenges.

"Leaders at all levels, whether it is the political, business, academic, the media ..., all persons who are in positions of leadership, where they can influence people's thinking and their behaviour, will need to play a part to stave off a stress crisis," he said.

Highway example

Abel cites the failure of many Jamaicans to identify opportunities inherent in the north-south link of Highway 2000, a segment of which was opened just over a week ago, as a classic example of Jamaica's attitude to problems.

"A highway system creates enormous opportunities, but we are not discussing these. What media was focusing on were difficulties that some vehicles were experiencing going over the highway, but failed to see the implications for tourism," he lamented.

"We are a country that loves to engage in what we call catastrophic thinking," he added. "When we go through stress and something bad happens, our inclination in this country is to see the worst."

Abel proffered that the tendency of Jamaicans to be negative might have been borne from the many years of continuous economic decline under which they were cultured.

He described stress as a broader concept that not only deals with exposure to challenges and difficult experiences but also has to do with perception of the event and how individuals respond to it.

Abel said while one person might see the economic crisis in a fatalistic light, bemoaning that things are tough and his inability to cope, another might be more positive.

That person is likely to say that the (Jamaican) dollar is valued at $113 to US$1, this means that imports are becoming more expensive and this is a great time for me to come up with some opportunities to put things on the market as people can no longer afford to import things ... . This is the kind of positive leadership we need at this time."

He said this was evident in the farming community where there is an increase in farming in vegetables and fruits. "Some people are seeing the best opportunity in a crisis and are looking at it in a particular context," he said.

Abel said there is a major difference between depression, which is a disease, and stress.

"Not every one gets depressed out of stress," said Abel. He added that while stress and depression are not necessarily the same, and he was at pains to point out that at times, stress can lead to depression.