Mon | Oct 21, 2019

Monique on a mission - Young advocate determined to help Jamaicans struggling with mental illness

Published:Sunday | February 10, 2019 | 12:10 AM

Monique Lynch
Monique Lynch

Doctoral candidate Monique Lynch has a passion to help persons living with mental illness that has seen her advocating and launching a campaign for them, although she has been chased, spat on, punched and verbally abused by those Jamaicans dub ‘mad people’.

The 28-year-old mental health advocate recalls that her earliest encounter with a mentally ill individual was at five years old in the community of Seaview Gardens in western St Andrew, where she still lives.

His name was Junior, and he always tried to start a conversation with her, much to the chagrin of her relatives, who would chase him away.

According to Lynch, the fear of mentally ill persons expressed by her family was contagious and so she did everything to avoid them.

But try as she might, they always seemed to want to interact with her in their own way. Lynch recalls being chased by a ‘mad man’ when she was 12 years old as she spent time with one of her friends at a fast-food restaurant in downtown Kingston.

“This man came up to us and started talking to us and we became a bit uncomfortable and decided to leave. I went into the bathroom and she left. I went and joined her, and while we were laughing that we had escaped him, there he was and he ran us down.

“We had to run into a store. I was confused because all along I thought mad people were persons living on the road. Now this man was very clean, his shirt was in his pants and he had on a tie; you would never have guessed that something was wrong with that man,” said Lynch.

Similar encounters followed over the years.

“I was walking in downtown Kingston and a mad lady just thumped me; then I was walking past one and he just threw some pee on me. I was walking in Half-Way Tree and one just come up and kissed me on the cheek. I have had them cuss me out. I have had them come up and talk to me, just randomly say things and I was always confused. I thought something was just set on me that attracted them to me,” said Lynch.

It was these strange random encounters that pushed Lynch to pursue a master’s degree in counselling and social work. She has a first degree in economics and statistics.

“I decided that I wanted to go to Bellevue (the island’s sole public hospital for the mentally ill) for my internship because I wanted to understand the mind of persons who have a mental illness and I wanted to face my fears. I went there and I just fell in love,” Lynch toldThe Sunday Gleaner.

Lynch is now pursuing doctoral studies in mental health, and her love for those struggling was the catalyst for several initiatives she has undertaken on their behalf.

Most notably was the launch of her non-profit organisation called Chosen Stars Foundation that offers psychosocial and educational services to the Corporate Area community of Seaview Gardens. Last October, she also launched a mental-health campaign called #MeEqualsYou or #Me.

“Persons with mental illness, given equal opportunity, support and resources, can function to their optimal level. Mental-health issues are increasingly common in Jamaica, affecting people of all ages, backgrounds, genders and abilities without discrimination,” said Lynch.

“While these problems are often considered taboo, the best way to help those who are suffering with some form of mental issue is to be informed through mental-health literacy and advocacy,” added Lynch.

She has decided to adopt the Bellevue Hospital under the leadership of its chief executive officer, Latoya McFarlene, and has committed to making 12 monthly donations to alleviate some of the intuition’s expenses.

“We are not only raising funds, we are actually donating personal-care items,” she said.

“ So I spoke with the social work department and they have communicated a list of things that patients need that they are having some difficulties providing, like personal-care items like tissue, soap, rag, toothpaste, clothing. We are accepting food items, personal-care items and we are accepting clothing – gently used clothing,” said Lynch in an appeal to Jamaicans to help those hospitalised with mental-health issues.

Already she has been able to get some donations, but the need is so great and her love is so deep for those with mental illness, that she wants to be in a position to fulfil the commitment she made to give monthly donations.

“I am looking for partners and I am accepting donations from everyone. This is a great opportunity for you to come on board, for something that can affect you,” she pleaded.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com

Monique Lynch can be contacted at chosenstarsfoundation@gmail.com