Brian-Paul Welsh | Land of madness
The recent revelation by a trusted local authority that as much as 40 per cent of this country's inhabitants are living with some type of psychiatric or mental disorder mightn't be shocking to those of us already of the view that this place is a madhouse. But if one applies such an arguably conservative estimate to the cohort of leaders currently running this poppy show, not only does it explain their bizarre behaviour and misanthropic tendencies, but, if perceived properly, the troubling daily occurrences we have grown accustomed to in this dysfunctional society strongly convey the message that in the case of Jamaica, the lunatics are the ones running the asylum.
A simple stroll through any major town on a regular day gives easy confirmation that our people are more than a little off balance, much to the amazement (and amusement) of the adventurous explorers traipsing through the country on safari. With our aggressive style of communication, abysmal conflict resolution skills, and chronic insecurity, we have made a name for ourselves worldwide as iconoclasts of decency and experts in mayhem.
Over the decades of societal decay, our localised maladies and behavioural pathologies have been identified, and in some cases endeared, either as cultural idiosyncrasies or charming quirks unique to this locale. From seemingly inexplicable acts of interpersonal hostility, to the widespread dependence on mood stabilisers ranging from herbal to chemical, even a cursory observation of the odd behaviour of the villagers tells a story of disparity, distress and despair that is perpetually masked by a jolly faÁade and a giddy jig. How else can you explain our anomalous 'dancing', our strange mating rituals, and the contemporary folk songs that make even a heathen like me blush?
This sad state of affairs, in combination with the self-interest of those overseeing this former slave plantation, is perhaps the reason those domiciled here have for the most part been let loose to cavort unmolested as a means of soothing our stress. In no other civilized society could the citizenry be left to their own devices in the way we have been customarily neglected like 'leggo beasts', and yet, somehow, those supposedly in control have convinced themselves this nation is on the path to prosperity. Reconciling the beaming confidence of the elite minority with the growing desperation of the suffering majority is an uncomfortable process, especially since we have been reliably informed that if social and economic conditions continue to deteriorate, the next decade will bring even more frequency of mental illness in the population, possibly doubling or tripling.
Watching a video of two taxi drivers stab, slice, and chop each other to smithereens in the midday sun while an animated crowd gathered for a long look at the gory entertainment, made me feel like I was witnessing the zombie apocalypse in my homeland, but no, it was just another day on Jamrock. Shortly after their adrenaline had been exhausted, both injured warriors limped away sheepishly, presumably to join the long line at the nearest health centre, while the villagers gossiped excitedly about the latest round of mortal combat in the streets with police nowhere to be found.
Years ago, witnessing such horrific scenes would have caused a panic attack or at the very least some sort of revulsion, but nowadays an alarming number of us can clinically observe the violent dismemberment of our countrymen, the aftermath of increasingly disturbing car crashes, or the sexual abuse of the young and innocent and barely flinch, or worse, erupt in vulgar laughter before spreading the depravity like a virus among our fellow sociopaths.
Evidently, this incessant exposure to horrifying violence in our communities, as well as the constant state of traumatic stress in which we operate have resulted in widespread desensitisation and an alarming increase in the number of mentally ill and emotionally disturbed people in our population.
Whether habitually scratching palms, compulsively imbibing powerful potions, or performing dancehall acrobatics to exorcise the demons of depression that plague us, we have been unsuccessfully self-medicating in order to cure the plethora of societal ailments we are subjected to. With a stagnant economy, poor job prospects, rampant crime, gratuitous violence and virtually no mechanisms in place to foster effective healing, it is no wonder so many Jamaicans are suffering, some in silence and others rather loudly; and if things continue to unfold as they have, Jamaica's already anarchic state will develop to the point of total insanity.
- Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @islandycynic on social media.