Mental health issues and crime
The Editor, Sir:
I have thought over and over again about the incidents of crime and violence in the family, schools and, by extension, the wider society and wondered what role the mental health status of our people plays in the process. This is uppermost in my mind as I prepare for a workshop which will explore mental illness in the Church and seek to answer the question: 'How come?'
My thoughts were further encouraged by the words of a preacher on the topic 'How to get up, when worries get you down', as he pointed to the importance of the mind in the maintenance of human sanity. As I pondered his words, I realised that everything that we do or say starts in the mind, but the beautiful thing is that the one who created the mind gives us all control of it.
I am aware that, in our country, any malfunction of the mind is viewed in the context of 'madness' and much attention is not given to persons with mental disorders, either by those who know the persons, the state or even the affected persons as they themselves do not want anyone to think they are mentally ill because of the stigma attached.
I am particularly interested in the adolescent age group because of the level of teen violence, gang involvement, substance use and abuse, among other factors, because my experience (which admittedly may be limited) is that a large percentage have some form of mental disorder. I have, for some time, been observing this age group in a learning centre in Kingston and have observed that most of these youngsters have a diagnosable mental disorder coupled with substance use (dual diagnosis).
Two years ago, I was involved in a project in New York that targeted teens with the diagnosis of mental illness and substance use. While teens everywhere are the same developmentally, the difference with these teens and the ones in Jamaica is that they are being treated. There seems to be a higher level of consciousness of the impact of mental disorder on teens' deviant behaviour and ultimate involvement with the criminal justice system.
Assigned to these youths were therapists, on-call psychologists, social workers and substance abuse counsellors, as well as medical doctors, as the need arose. What I admired about the New York system was how the consciousness of the policymakers was so aroused and informed about the importance of a stable mind to nation-building. I observed that once a child exhibits any kind of behaviour where his mental state could be questioned, a psychological evaluation is usually required.
I will dare to suggest that one of our most valuable tools in fighting crime and violence in Jamaica's schools and wider society lies in the ability to address the mental health of our youths/people. Greater efforts need to be placed on bio-psycho-social analysis, psychological evaluation and treatment, as well as appropriate treatment plans that bring about and sustain effective learning.
Until we realise that adolescence is a critical period for mental, social and emotional development, and that it is during this period that the brain undergoes significant developmental changes and behaviour patterns, making them more prone to depression and more likely to engage in risky and thrill-seeking behaviours, we will not be able to develop appropriate strategies that will influence modification in their behaviour.
Not to be forgotten or disregarded is the consultation and intervention of the Creator of the mind. No one knows better than the One who took the time to create the human mind which is designed to be responsive to Divine Intervention.
The Government should consider implementing a national mental health information programme with mini centres strategically placed in malls or places regularly visited by people with the view to providing information, including through brochures. The awareness campaign should to be more focused on youths, since they seem to be of greatest concern at this time.
I am, etc.,
MAVIS M. FERGUSON