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'We need more psychologists' - Social worker calls for more help to deal with crime suppression and trauma

Published:Tuesday | January 3, 2017 | 12:00 AMClaudia Gardner

There is a drastic need for government to pump resources into acquiring the services of more psychologists and social workers to work directly with communities in western Jamaica, in order to reduce the region's murder rate, some stakeholders say.

Retired schoolteacher and social worker, Nerris Hawthorne, said crime has rippled throughout the country so much so, that all communities have been affected, which has no doubt given rise to a high levels of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder amongst the population, particularly children, much of it undiagnosed.

"We need more psychologists. We need more people in the care business. Too many persons have been affected by crime and it's not so easy to get rid of that. We need social workers attached to families; we don't have enough social workers; we don't have enough caregivers. We don't have enough counselling psychologists to give that sort of care," Hawthorne said.

"People in the districts are closely related, or if not they are good friends or used to visit the house, go out or be at church together. Once the crime ripples through the society like that, it is affecting everybody. Almost everybody in Jamaica now, has been touched because there is someone close to you in the family or a close friend has died tragically," she said.

She added: "And sooner, whether you know it or not, you go home, you think about, you consider what's happening and soon it's a mental thing. And people are not so quick to go out and get treatment either. They like to keep these things to themselves. Something is happening; they don't feel right but they don't realise this is a mental issue. Take the school for instance, a child that attending a school that is well loved and that child is killed tragically - everybody in the school mourns. It is not so easy for the children to get rid of that."




Reverend Everton Jackson of the Peace Management Initiative in Montego Bay also expressed grave concern about the inadequate number of government psychotherapists assigned to the region, at a recent Gleaner Editors Forum. He said it is time for the "powers that be" to recognise that children may have witnessed, murders of relatives, neighbours and parents and need professional help to manage the hurt and pain.

"I think we need to pay a little more attention to equipping the therapeutic agencies with more personnel. There is a limitation of counsellors within the reach of our people. For some persons, they can't afford to pay for that service. For example, Victim Support has only one person to my knowledge. Look at the PMI of Western Jamaica - there is not one psychologist there - two social workers and no psychologist so if a person needs the service, they have to have money to access it," he explained.

"At all levels, therapeutic intervention is important. When persons are hurting, they need to have an opportunity for ventilation where they are able to air out what is it that might be holding them emotional captive and only someone who has the requisite training can do that, because if you don't you can end up opening the wound and can't close it and make a bad situation worse," he said.

Jackson said if traumatised persons are not assisted to come to grips with their pain and to reach a point where they can get on with their lives, these persons may inadvertently become perpetrators of criminal activities in the society.

"It is something that really bothers me as it relates to our children and it has to do with how they have been assisted in managing grief, that would have been occasioned by traumatic experiences. At the educational level, provision is made for guidance counsellors at our high school level but not at the early childhood level," Jackson explained.

"So I am proposing that our Ministry of Education might need to consider either grouping Early childhood institutions in regions and assigning a child psychologist who would have that responsibility to superintend a group of these institutions, to provide that kind of psychological assistance to the teacher, ongoing training and be available to respond at any time to circumstances and situations that might be beyond the level of the classroom teachers," he said.