Letter of the Day |The Government, the Church and mental health and wellness
THE EDITOR, Madam:
Since the recent pronouncements of Prime Minister Andrew Holness that the Government will be partnering with the Church to have a more robust approach to mental health, at the recently held ‘Heal the Family, Heal the Nation’ conference, several people have taken issue with the stance.
Many believe that the Government, again, is shifting focus and abandoning its responsibility, instead of establishing the requisite mechanisms and training and utilising industry-specific specialists to get the job done.
Mental health concerns have been around for a long time, albeit there was a negative connotation attached to it; however, as we have become more ‘woke’, we have now given greater acceptance to its existence, and more people from every stratum of society are making conscious efforts to take care of their mental health and well-being.
An increased number of people are engaging in therapy, counselling, empowerment sessions, and physical fitness. People have realised the need to be whole; therefore, the stigma associated with seeing a counsellor or psychologist is reducing.
Even in schools, there is a need to have adequate personnel to help our students navigate through their different stages of development. Several of their bad behaviours have roots in mental health issues and traumas.
Sometime ago I attended a forum entitled ‘Addressing Violence in Schools to Create a Wellness Environment’, hosted by Shortwood Teachers’ College. Nattalie McKenzie, senior lecturer and student services coordinator, noted that the forum “…was influenced by the reports of the upsurge of violence in many schools across Jamaica. This upsurge in violence within the schools is concerning, as it compromises the safety of staff and students and interferes with the teaching and learning process, which is the main purpose of school”.
Principal of Yallahs High School, Mark Malabver, who was also in attendance, noted that the notion of wellness in school is relatively new and speaks to holistic safety: “The whole concept of wellness within the context of the education system is a relatively new concept … it is certainly a place where students [and] stakeholders, by and large, feel safe; where they are able to express themselves … psychological, spiritual, emotional, and physical safety is a priority.”
Undoubtedly, the issues we see in our schools – leading to deaths at times – require great and immediate intervention. There is no questioning whether these behaviours are linked to mental health, as mental health engulfs our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It has implications on how we think, feel, act, and react. It also encompasses how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.
Even in the wider society, we see where several people lack emotional intelligence and conflict management and resolution skills. It, therefore, means that there is a serious need for trained social workers and psychosocial specialists to flood our institutions to help us to deal with our real issues.
I agree with Mr Malabver that “…over the years we have gotten it backwards. We constantly argue that schools are a by-product of society, but … society should be macrocosm of schools.”
What of the Church? For some, the Church is not seen as a trusted institution because of its history of causing or adding to trauma. Consequently, the question arises as to why the Government would seek to engage an entity to address an issue to which they themselves have contributed. The other reason is that many pastors have used people’s confidential information to preach against them from the pulpit. Additionally, numerous people who have sought help were told to “pray about it” or that they were possessed by demons.
It cannot be denied that there was an era where many denominations used to ordain pastors who were not trained; therefore, they were limited in their capacities to identify and treat with mental health issues.
Furthermore, a lot of them also struggled (still do) with their fair share of trauma. How, then, would they be adequately equipped to deal with similar ones experienced by their congregants?
On the other hand, however, we ought to appreciate that the Church has made meaningful progress in getting some of their ministers trained, both in theology and in counselling. In fact, many of the esteemed and reputable psychosocial therapists are Christians and ministers. So, yes, the prime minister is within order to call for the support of the Church.
Moreover, those who understand spiritual matters will appreciate that there is also a place for healing and deliverance. Not everything is curable by the physical. At times, we do need ‘divine intervention’.