Fri | Jul 30, 2021
Youth Perspectives

Trevon Fletcher | Mental health solutions need multidimensional approach

Published:Sunday | May 30, 2021 | 12:06 AM

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) has mental health as a primary focus area for research and implementing programmes. Contrary to popular belief, Caribbean nationals were battling several issues before COVID-19, for example, mental health. However, as the pandemic demonstrated, mental health requires a more proactive and versatile approach to address the intersectionality of the issue.

JAMAICA VS OTHER COUNTRIES

Within Jamaica, there is a new push to end stigmatisation against mental illness in social groups. Through behaviour change communication strategies, such as television advertisements and social media, the MOHW aims to dismantle cultural norms and associations such as mental health and demonic influences. Moreover, new hotlines have assisted people who need interventions.

In comparison, Brazil’s national health system has been highly praised for their approach to decentralising mental health services and implementing more equipped clinics to handle the burden. This decentralisation includes having psychological units for some populations in community health centres which increases accessibility and reduces the burden on large-scale hospitals. However, Jamaicans can be optimistic as a similar method has been proposed in the ministry’s Vision 2030 Strategic Plan.

MULTIDIMENSIONAL PROBLEM

Meanwhile, Jamaica suffers as the mental health of some groups are disproportionately affected before and during this pandemic. Despite limited current statistics and data, anecdotal experiences would have noted children and adolescents as a new vulnerable group.

With the decrease in socialisation, youth lack emotional support from peers and access to school services such as peer counsellors and guidance counsellors. Parents from all socio-economic backgrounds lack sufficient knowledge to identify signs of emotional distress and mental illness. Furthermore, in some areas, peer pressure and social influences may cause acceptance of unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance abuse to manage mental crises.

Among men, there is also a concern with the stigmatisation of accessing mental health services. With cultural biases and poor education, most men desire not to discuss their mental health and engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms.

MENTAL HEALTH CARE AVAILABILITY

Ironically, most studies find that women have a higher incidence of depression linked to issues such as sole-parenting, increased responsibility, and lack of avenues for social mobility. Additionally, one should consider homeless people with no income to access mental health services. Likewise, individuals in rural communities may not have mental health care available at their local clinics.

Imagine the fate of a rural male teenager from a low-income family with an undiagnosed mental illness. This intersectional approach to dissecting the risk factors of mental illnesses, based on social determinants of health, is essential to understanding potential solutions.

However, a series of versatile and pragmatic solutions that engage all stakeholders in our society is required. The government plays a significant role in this process. In order to continue efforts to reduce stigma, our public health system must:

1. Increase virtual outreach programmes to raise awareness about different signs of mental illnesses and promote health services through community centres and associations.

2. Accelerate efforts to decentralise mental health care and integrate it into primary healthcare by increasing the menu of services in community health centres.

3. Mobilise the use of digital health products such as telemedicine in community health centres for psychiatric patients.

4. Continue to incentivise research in mental health to increase studies that inform better healthcare policies and implementation in target populations.

5. Provide bonded scholarships to prospective clinical psychologists and other mental health care workers.

6. Increase the capacity-building efforts of primary healthcare professionals to increase knowledge and improve attitudes and practices when handling psychiatric patients.

School boards and administrations can:

1. Increase the capacity-building efforts of teachers to identify signs of mental illnesses to allow for more referrals for assistance when physical classes resume.

2. Empower and support student-led efforts for mental health awareness and interventions.

3. Conduct more consultations with student leaders for potential solutions.

4. Implement regular mental health simulation activities.

Corporate Jamaica, through corporate social responsibility, should:

1. Partner with local groups and increase sponsorship of small-scale mental health awareness activities.

2. Support groups in public education campaigns to increase awareness of mental health.

NGOs and youth groups can assist in the decentralisation of mental health interventions by:

1. Conducting public education campaigns about mental health awareness and implement programmes for mental health simulations.

2. Encouraging collective responsibility among citizens to normalise mental health awareness and interventions.

With this approach, we can see more incremental steps to reduce Jamaica’s burden of mental illnesses and decreased dependency on wide-scale solutions. In Jamaica, our mental health needs to be our priority. We can become our solution. We can move these ideas from off the paper and into practice for the betterment of our society.

- Trevon Fletcher is a second-year medical student at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is a UWISTAT vice-chancellor ambassador and the Mona campus local officer for sexual and reproductive health and rights in the Jamaica Medical Students Association. Send feedback to trevonfletcher@gmail.com.