Mad in Jamaica - One in four will develop mental illness
With the view that mental health is seen as the 'bastard baby' of the health system, psychologist Dr Pearnel Bell is calling for more to be done to tackle mental health issues in Jamaica.
Bell's concerns were raised against the backdrop of this week being designated as World Mental Health Week. She noted that mental illnesses affect a significant section of the population, so greater attention needs to be paid to such issues.
"The statistics show that one in four persons will experience a mental illness at some time in their lives, so if you're in a room of 20 people, five of those persons will, at some point, experience a mental illness," Bell said.
She added that certain mental illnesses contribute to persons committing serious crimes such as murder. A case in point was last Sunday's incident where a mentally ill man severed a taxi operator's head.
"Schizophrenia is the most prevalent and the most severe of all the disorders, and that can be seen in both children and adults. Depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders are also prevalent mental illness, which also come with suicidal thoughts," Bell explained.
Bell, who is also chairman of Committee for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill (CUMI), said that another major issue which needs attention is the abuse of mental health patients in the society.
"There is this book called 'Mad in America' and it outlines the atrocities that were committed against the mentally ill. In Jamaica, there is no difference because of the stigma that is attached to the mentally ill. People don't realise that mentally ill people have a right to be treated dignified just like anybody else," Bell said.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Sharing similar sentiments to Bell, is Dr Maureen Irons-Morgan, who is the director of mental health in the health ministry. She conceded that there is room for improvement, but noted that headway is being made to tackle some issues.
"Years gone by, people used to assume that mental illnesses are very mysterious and due to various things that people do to you, so there is a certain stigma attached to mental illness," Irons-Morgan said.
She added: "Within the ministry, we have been making a lot of effort to improve on this through mental health promotional activities. We have also done a lot in terms of integrating mental health services into general health services at all different levels. This helps to take away from the stigma and make it easier for persons who are experiencing mental illness to seek help."