Wed | Sep 26, 2018

Break the cycle of stigma, shame and silence - Abel

Published:Wednesday | September 28, 2016 | 12:00 AMJodi-Ann Gillpin

Professor Wendel Abel, psychiatrist, believes there is a cycle of stigma, shame and silence which needs to be broken if Jamaica is to see real changes with mental illness.

"There's a high level of stigma (about mental illness) and people associate it with demon possession and obeah. That comes with stigma, and with stigma there is shame... and then with the shame, there is silence. So it's a cycle that we continue to see," he told The Gleaner in an interview last week.

Abel specifically pointed to the impact stress has on young people which, he said, manifests in the cases of substance abuse among youths.




"The reality is that Jamaica has always been a stressful society. It is a stressful place to live in and our young people are not spared from this exposure to a stressful society," Abel said.

"Stress is a very complex thing. It has to do with exposure to an adverse event. But your perception also influences how stressful your experience is and your response. Several persons could be exposed to the same thing, some find it stressful, others don't," he continued.

The professor added: "What makes the difference is how an individual perceives the event and how we respond. An important point in terms of our young people is that we have to work with them to build resilience to get them tougher so that they can respond and deal with stress better."

The professor noted that even though mental health is often not viewed as an urgent issue, he said it is one of those things which could have adverse effects on society.

"Mental illness is very common and affects one in four families, and because it's so common, it imposes a high disease burden on society. It impacts on the quality of life for persons who are mentally ill. They are often impacted in many instances in terms of employment. It often poses significant stress on the family and caregivers and it carries with it a cost to society and a burden on the health sector," the psychiatrist declared.

"Children, parents and families must look out for changes in behaviour in children. It may touch on young people, and we have seen common problems such as substance use and abuse," he said.