Tue | Sep 28, 2021

Letter of the Day | Mental illness is no joke, Mr Azan

Published:Wednesday | July 28, 2021 | 12:08 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

I call on Mr Richard Azan and the People’s National Party (PNP) to publicly withdraw the insensitive comments and insinuations he made on a political platform in Manchester on Sunday.

Mr Azan said that something was wrong with Miss Rhoda Crawford’s “upstairs”, to loud cheers and laughter from party supporters. Throwing unkind words at your opponents, especially on political platforms, is part of the cut and thrust of politics. I get that! However, for Mr Azan to use pejorative remarks associated with mental illness to throw shade at Ms Crawford is wrong on many levels.

As a mental health patient myself, I know from experience that mental illness is not fun so we should not try to make it funny. Comments and insinuations like what Mr Azan uttered on the political platform only serve to fuel the stigma associated with mental illness. His comments were meant to illuminate his political opponents in a negative light, and that is exactly how stigma works. It makes people see those of us with mental illness negatively because of our health condition.

It hurts me as a mental health patient that the leader of the PNP, Mr Mark Golding, and the general secretary, Dr Dayton Campbell, who is a medical doctor, sat on the platform and applauded with laughter at such insensitive remarks.

As a senior member of the PNP and someone of influence who many people look up to, Mr Azan’s remarks are highly insensitive and fly in the face of the community of the mentally ill. Mr Azan and the PNP may not see the stigma associated with mental illness and the correlation with his comments as a big deal, but to me it is, and I believe it is to the over 100,000 of us in Jamaica living with the ailment.

FUELLING STIGMA

Stigma causes many of us as mental health patients to avoid or delay seeking help because of fear of being judged, ridiculed or rejected. Stigma also fuels prejudice and discrimination, which invariably hinder our treatment programme and our ability to lead normal lives. Mr Azan’s comments and insinuations are an affront to the gains made over many years to help remove shame from mental illness.

We all have a role to play in helping to eradicate stigma and repair the broken dignity of the community of the mentally ill. One of the ways we can help is through advocacy and calling out people like Mr Azan when they utter insensitive comments like the one he made about something being wrong with Rhoda Crawford “upstairs”.

I am happy that many Jamaicans showed him the ‘red card’ by calling him out. As a mental health patient and advocate, I am calling on Mr Azan and the PNP to publicly apologise to Ms Crawford and the community of the mentally ill. Do the right thing and apologise, Mr Azan. The community of the mentally ill and Ms Crawford deserve to be treated with greater respect and sensitivity.

Our politics has evolved and more people are inclined to demand a kinder, gentler, milder, softer and cleaner tone from our political leaders. The word is always love!

ANDRE WELLINGTON