Mental illness is not a joke


June 24, 2016
A homeless and seemingly mentally ill man takes a nap on the sidewalk out side the St William Grant park downtown Kingston.

For what seems like an eternity, many Jamaicans, while having access to tons of information, largely remain ignorant.

Many of us function like this is still 400 years ago, and we are still chained next to each other in the bowels of vessels that take weeks to cross the Atlantic.

In a time when Google can be your best friend, and libraries still exist, it is incredible to conceive that so many of us treat mental illness like we did hundreds of years ago. We have never been able to embrace an idea that mental illness is not a curse.

It was not brought on by some witch mixing toxic liquid and a human body in a big boiling pot in the deep recesses of a cave.

Too often, these days, I pass someone on the street who is clearly mentally ill, and should be in an institution somewhere getting treatment that will result in them becoming useful members of society. Instead, many are abandoned on the streets where they are at risk of harm or putting others at risk.

There is this one guy who used to be on Waterloo Road who spends half the day looking up at the sky and smiling like he is seeing virgins up there waiting for him, and who poses a serious risk to motorists.

The last time I saw him he was on the street off Hope Road.

But not only do we ignore the signs among our relatives and friends, we ignore them in ourselves as well.

Mention the word psychiatrist to a Jamaican and they react like you told them they are showing symptoms of Ebola. Any admission to needing help to sort out some of life's struggles is tantamount to being ridiculed.


People think you are soft, unable to cope. It's a sign of weakness in this country to admit that you need help. I swear therapists must have the hardest time finding work.

But as time has passed, we have seen more and more people flip their lids and begin to walk the streets or keep everything inside. People pretending to be strong until something snaps and then they either kill themselves, others, or a bit of both.

Do you think it is a coincidence the number of murder/suicides that are happening these days?

A couple is having a world of problems, but instead of going to see a counsellor and airing their issues, they keep it bottled inside until more often than not the man snaps. The next thing you know they're on the evening news.

A lot of this is all because they worry that people are going to talk.

Mental illness is something that we need to spend more time to understand, and because we are not experts, we need to go see people who can help us treat that illness. If you have a physical illness we go to see a doctor, buy the necessary drugs, and take them until you feel better.

It is the same with mental illness. You go to the doctor, he tells you what's wrong and prescribes the necessary drugs which you take until you get better.

It is as simple as that.

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