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Poor life skills, malnourished brains - major cause of unnecessary violence

Published:Monday | March 21, 2016 | 3:00 AMJason Cross
Dr Wendel Abel

Poor life skills, coupled with malnourished brains, are among the root causes of psychopathic behaviour displayed regularly in Jamaican society, which have too often led to persons being murdered in trivial disputes, claimed two noted psychiatrists.

Earlier this month, three men were killed at a cookshop in Norwood, St James, which the police have theorised stemmed from a dispute over a wet cell phone. In February, 37-year-old Mark St Patrick Bernard was murdered by his brother, who at the time was a member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force. That incident reportedly developed from an argument between the two over a SIM card.

University of the West Indies professor and psychiatrist, Dr Wendel Abel, is convinced that these issues are caused by poor conflict-resolution skills, frustration, low tolerance, and society's propensity for violence.

"I think there are several issues at play in these situations, in particular poor conflict-resolution skills, just the inability to resolve conflict in an amicable way. I think it also highlights our propensity for violence in this society. Unfortunately, violence and aggression have been normalised in our society. Third, it may also indicate that many persons walking around may have a low frustration tolerance. This may be attributed to poor life skills," commented Abel.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Anthony Allen, from the Whole Person Growth Facility in Kingston, believes that once poverty and the lack of access to proper education prevail, there will be very little progress towards realising a less violent society.

"Once persons are well educated, once persons are able to provide for themselves, they have a greater sense of worth. Once persons have better health care and better mental health care, society will be better for it. You need to have access to counsellors, access to psychiatrists. Sometimes people can be depressed and sometimes people can be upset, sometimes people can be mentally ill and have personality disorder where they need the appropriate counselling and family counselling as well," suggested Allen.

POCKETS OF POVERTY

"I'm saying that, part of our history and part of our political history have led to these pockets of poverty, pockets of poor family life, pockets of social disorganisation, lack of education, and when you look at the violence, most of it occurs in impoverished areas and in garrison communities, both urban and rural; we all know that phenomenon with gangs and so on," he said.

Allen said that in many cases, because of poverty, children grow up malnourished. He said this nutritional imbalance causes their brains to be underdeveloped, which, in turn, leads to inadequate thinking.

He believes that Jamaica's colonial and political history has played a major role in upholding the violent culture and feels the leadership of the country has done little to correct the problem.

PHYSICAL ABUSE

He cited the physical abuse meted out to children growing up as very damaging.

"Another aspect of our culture is the tendency for physical abuse on the part of parents. This is too widespread, and it is a major problem. I'm talking about physical abuse in punishment. It's not just hitting a child on the buttocks or using a belt on the palm. Too often, parents will box children or beat them with belt buckle or lick them with broom stick."

According to Allen, in many of these cases, children learn violent behaviour when parents fail to demonstrate proper impulse control. He suggests that parents should place more emphasis on teaching them proper reasoning.

"Naturally, a child coming up to be a man, when they're in a conflict, when they feel offended by somebody else, they're going to practise what they learn - to be impulsive, to be punitive, to be aggressive and to be revengeful and vindictive," stated Allen.

He believes that there are too few fathers in homes and wants the Church to do more to build family life.

"I don't think the Church has done enough to examine and understand our culture. I think there is more of an emphasis on coming to church, more of an emphasis on what they worship. The Church needs to be more relevant to the culture, more relevant to understanding human beings, human needs and human behaviour," he said.

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com