They are not all ‘mad’
Administrator of the Committee for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill (CUMI), Nurse Joy Crooks, is expressing concern about the tendency to label perpetrators of vicious crimes as being mentally ill, without them being properly diagnosed.
"Not everyone of the perpetrators are mentally ill, so you have to really be very careful if you are going to automatically assume that these persons who commit these horrific crimes are mentally ill," warned Crooks.
"It is easy sometimes to use mental illness as a scapegoat, so we have to be very careful how we enter that path," Crooks told The Gleaner.
Some of the more horrific crimes committed in recent times have been attributed to the mental illness of the criminals. Just last week, the police took into custody the uncle of three children who died after their Admiral Town house was set on fire. However persons have claimed that the man, 23-year-old Phillip McLeod, has a long history of mental illness.
There were also media reports of a mentally ill man slashing the throat of two-year-old Jayheim Cooper in St Ann last August, just minutes after he had attacked another man. A few days before that incident, a policeman was disarmed by a man suspected of being of unsound mind who then used the firearm to shoot two people in Half-Way Tree.
Consultant psychiatrist Dr Wendel Abel is also concerned about the automatic labelling of persons who commit vicious crimes as being mentally ill.
"We know that the vast majority of crimes in society and in Jamaica are committed by people without mental illness," he said.
Abel noted that one in every four families is affected by mental illness globally, and urged individuals to take their relatives to get treatment whenever they start displaying strange or disorganised behaviour.
"All around Jamaica in the public-health system, we do provide services where the mental-health team would come in and administer injection for people who won't comply readily with their medication," he said.
According to Jamaica's Economic and Social Survey for 2013, a little more than 39,000 persons visited health centres with psychiatric illnesses that year, and 2,506 of them were admitted to hospital. Mental health-related visits were among the top-five reasons for visits to curative health facilities.
Dawn Marie Roper, head of mental-health support group, Mensana Jamaica, told our news team that members of the group are challenged daily to deal with their mentally-ill relatives. The support group comprises more than 90 caregivers and relatives of mentally-ill individuals.
"They are complaining that there are no therapeutic sources for their mentally ill loved ones so they don't get worse or they don't snap," she said, before adding that, "There is no follow-up and that is very, very important."
Pay more attention
According to Roper, she hopes the recent incidents involving persons suspected of having mental illness will force policy makers to pay more attention to the importance of addressing this group.
"More deaths will occur if government doesn't pay more attention," said Roper.
"As far as I am concerned, there is a lot of 'will be' and 'to do', but in terms of addressing the immediate needs, I don't think we are ready yet," she asserted.
One mother, whose 29-year-son was diagnosed with schizophrenia, told The Sunday Gleaner that she is living in fear because she has been verbally threatened on numerous occasions and her son sometimes gets abusive towards other relatives.
"I have been trying to get him into an institution for the past couple of years and it's like a brick wall. Everywhere you go to get help for him, it's like a brick wall you come upon," lamented the woman whose identity is being withheld.