As family values collapse and social bonds unravel, Jamaicans are going bonkers
Martin Henry, Contributor
Early in the New Year, this newspaper reported that psychiatrist Frederick Hickling and research partner Vanessa Paisley had discovered that some 40 per cent of Jamaicans have some kind of personality disorder.
Now doctor-politician Kenneth Baugh is telling us that the high incidence of personality disorder in the society is as a result of a breakdown in the family structure. It should be clear - even to the insane - that we cannot continue like this.
In critiquing research as non-experts in the particular matter, we have been trained to ask who funds the study and how it was done. As the saying goes, for someone with a hammer, everything is a nail. The CHASE Fund, which could hardly be accused of having a vested interest in certifying so many Jamaicans 'mad', financed the Hickling-Paisley study. And the impeccable Don Anderson polling outfit, which gets election results right when others don't, conducted the four-stage, stratified random sampling on 1,506 Jamaicans between age 18 and 64 years.
Extrapolation of the data, extending it to the whole population, suggests that nearly one million persons in Jamaica are suffering from mild to serious personality disorder of one sort or another.
As an aside, the Statistical Institute of Jamaica is promising the overdue results of the last census next month. This should please Mike Henry no end. We have been working with the "extrapolated" data of the 2001 census. Mike Henry has been a fierce advocate of getting and using accurate demographic data for policy and planning. The Government, very often, doesn't know what it is talking about or planning for. But then Hickling told The Gleaner that many of Jamaica's leaders in several sectors are mentally ill.
It appears to me, without the benefit of a scientific study, that political leaders who can build garrisons and use political violence as a tool for electoral victory and then display all the innocence and gentleness of a lamb would have Jekyll and Hyde personalities. One very high-ranking politician, who would be a fantastic subject for retrospective psychoanalysis, died crying out, "Remorse, come!" Perhaps others will.
In any case, Dr Baugh, speaking in the recent debate on the National Parenting Support Commission Act, told the House of Representatives: "I have no doubt in my mind that because of the breakdown of the family, and what I see in rural Jamaica and urban inner cities of families suffering from this dismantlement, they contribute significantly to this personality disorder that impedes learning."
The goodly doctor-legislator argues a direct correlation between the state of families and personality disorder. This is more likely to be a circular relationship, with each feeding the other. Baugh said in Parliament further: "I am afraid that a lot of our children in their homes are subject to a lot of stress, a lot of hostility, to loud noises, to discordant music, to sleeplessness, the lack of space in the home."
While we await the urgently necessary counter-studies to the Hickling-Paisley study, their estimate of about 40 per cent personality disorder in the population is way beyond the six to 15 per cent range found internationally. That's a red flag against the study; why would Jamaica be as much as nearly seven times out of line with international norms in this matter of human personality?
But clinical psychologist Dr Karen Richards, based on her consultant practice here and her experience in the United Kingdom where she was born and trained, thinks the number of persons, especially the young, who present with personality disorder is "alarming".
"In terms of what you see as a clinician, it's surprising," she says. "I am surprised at the number of people I see who would qualify for that diagnosis." The pervasiveness of personality disorder, she believes, is self-perpetuating, and abuse is usually the root cause.
Meanwhile, out in the streets, they call it murder. "Extrapolating these findings to our society," the researchers noted in a letter carried by The Gleaner, "there is no wonder about the high rates of murder and violence, rape, and other sexual atrocities, and crimes such as theft and praedial larceny that are crippling our society." They are of the view that many of the crime strategies deployed by the security forces have failed because this scientific aspect of the crime problem has not been properly addressed.
The high incidence of personality and mental disorder in the general population would naturally be reflected in the security forces and aggravated by the risks and stress of the work. A recent case of 'irrational' police shooting has been strongly linked to the mental state of a quiet churchgoing officer.
Opening the debate on the National Parenting Commission Support Act, Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites batted for parental responsibility, for faithful relationship between men and women, between fathers and mothers. "This notion of just pushing condoms is not good enough," the reverend minister preached. Uganda had substantial reduction in its HIV/AIDS burden, pushing its alphabetic ABC formula: Abstinence, Be faithful, Condom use.
While the battle rages about how explicit sex education should be for grade-seven students (13-year-olds) and the Ministry of Education has had to pull "shocking" material from the schools, a group of young people undertook a Love March for Purity from Hope Gardens to Mandela Park.
Opposition leader and former minister of education, Andrew Holness, speaking in the parliamentary debate, argued (as I have been doing at every opportunity), "Our focus on the macroeconomics is not sufficient for the development of the society." And, in any case, parenting and family life, he said, have significant impact on the economy.
It is good to see Parliament heavily engaged with the National Parenting Commission Support Act, an important piece of legislation. Many other members have spoken on it. Following my piece on 'Laws of Jamaica: 1962-2012' (August 26), which began reflections on the legislative direction and output in Independence, UK-based Jamaican lawyer Matondo Mukulu had an interesting and significant email dialogue on a planned and structured legislative agenda to support an Independence vision for the country. This led to his piece last Sunday, 'Jamaica needs a law commission'.
Just to underscore the point: The lazy legislature needs to work much harder and much smarter on a structured legislative agenda for the social, economic and political transformation of the country in the second half-century of Independence. More and longer sittings must be held. The leader of government business and the leader of opposition business, perhaps assisted by the proposed law commission must hammer out a legislative agenda around a consensus vision for a transformed Jamaica.
To the extent that the home and the family are a major locus of personality disorder and a battery of social ills, many linked to these disorders, the State must intervene with appropriate law and policy. MP Thwaites says it is an indictment on the Parliament not to have done the necessary legislative work to make it mandatory for the names of fathers to be on birth certificates.
Mad Anthony (he has labelled me Mad Hen from my email address) has included, in his frequent screamer emails, a rather useful one on the effects of fatherlessness. I intend to give this fuller treatment another time in a return to a subject I have worked before.
Here is Mad Anthony (email name John Anthony) with a bit of tidying up: "Jamaica leads most countries of the world in out-of-wedlock births and dysfunctional family structures at 80%-90% and African Americans are not far behind at 65%; cousins of a feather, if you please. This is the fact most African Americans and Jamaicans want to avoid. There is no way they will ever attain long-term prosperity with these abnormally high out-of-wedlock birth rates and the consequent widespread dysfunctional families, even if every one has a PhD. High morals come before wealth."
On a battery of indices, fatherless children fare worse, bearing in mind that fatherlessness is normative for Jamaica: More behaviour disorders, lower school performance and more dropouts, higher incidence of drug abuse and suicide, more involvement with gangs and committing crimes, more teenage pregnancy, cyclic intergenerational poverty and child abuse.
The Hickling-Paisley study found, no surprise, really, that 45.7 per cent of the persons who were single, and 43.2 per cent of the persons who were separated or divorced, met the criteria for a personality disorder diagnosis, as compared to 35.7 per cent of those in a committed relationship. In a population characterised by loose serial-relationships adults, parents and children should be hurting a lot psychologically, despite the brash celebration of sexuality all the way down to the very young.
We want, we need, evidence-based policy and legislation. According to Fred Hickling, if the findings of the study don't influence public policy, we are doomed to repeating the same mistakes of the last 100 years or since Independence.
Martin Henry is a communication specialist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.