Banishing the “Mad People” Mindset

October 13th, 2019

“For the average Jamaican, mental illness means mad people. Let’s be frank.”

So said Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton at the launch of the “Speak Up, Speak Now” Mental Health Campaign at Bellevue Hospital in Kingston last Thursday, October 10 – World Mental Health Day.

Now, first things first: the Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Helpline is to be launched tomorrow (Monday, October 14). It will be manned 24 hours daily by trained professionals. The toll free number is 888 NEW LIFE (635-5433). Please share!

Mental health campaign evite_Oct10

So, what is the old perception of someone who is mentally ill? Minister Tufton continued, “It means somebody you must reject, who must be an outcast…” Jamaicans are often “uncaring, insensitive, and cruel,” he asserted. This was a challenge to Jamaicans: We must get rid of that mindset. Like other forms of discrimination, much of it derives from not knowing, and we fear something we do not know or understand.

We need to fight this with improved knowledge and awareness. What does it feel like to be bipolar? What are the symptoms of depression? When should I get help? How can I get help? How can I relieve anxiety and live a better life? In a recent conversation with Tameka A. Coley (Tami Tsansai), Director of Communications at the Jamaica Mental Health Advocacy Network, I learned many useful wellness tips. These kinds of conversations are necessary.

One of the new buses provided for community mental health services. (My photo)

One of the new buses provided for community mental health services. (My photo)

Minister Tufton informed us that last year, out of more than 4,500 mental health crisis calls islandwide, the community mental health team could only provide a face-to-face response to around 2,500. Obviously, he stressed, this 60 to 70 percent response rate needs to be boosted. He pointed out that, contrary to rumor, Bellevue Hospital will not be shut down. It will always be needed for some patients; but many simply need counseling and treatment, not institutionalization.

There is also a need for more Mental Health Officers and trained Psychiatric Nursing Aides; 35 more of the latter should start training by next February and it is hoped that double that number will be trained in the next year.

Let’s remember the children. A school survey in Jamaica in 2017 of children aged 13 to 17 found that in the previous year, 25 percent of them had seriously considered suicide and 18 percent had actually attempted suicide. These are quite frightening numbers. If you know a young person…reach out and make sure they are OK.

A mural at Bellevue Hospital was donated by Pepsi Cola. (My photo)

A mural at Bellevue Hospital was donated by Pepsi Cola. (My photo)

Apart from the many logistical and administrative issues related to mental health services – which the addition of fourteen new mental health buses will certainly help with – there were two main points. They are both related to the “madman” mindset. One is, as noted above, that there is a need to understand, empathize, listen and understand that we are all vulnerable. In other words, banish the stigma. The second point is that, as a result of this, we must start a national dialogue. Mental health is not something to be swept under the carpet – a taboo subject that no one wants to discuss. Hence the “Speak Up, Speak Now” hashtag.

As I noted when I visited Bellevue Hospital last week, I had my own perception of the place as somewhere slightly intimidating (imposed on me by others, I think). That was far from what I saw on that sunny morning. It began to sink in that good work was being done. No public health institution is perfect and there’s always room for improvement, but they are certainly doing their best.

The other message is really: “We shall overcome.” With care, love, understanding and the proper treatment and support, mental illness can be effectively tackled.

Our society will be the happier and healthier for it. As the Dalai Lama said:

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.

 

For more information, go to the Ministry website at www.moh.gov.jm/mental-health. Email: mymentalhealth101@gmail.com and moores@moh.gov.jm. You can also follow @themohwgovjm on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

You can look up Bellevue Hospital at www.bellevuehospital.org.jm Call them at 876 928-1380-7. Email: bellevue_hospital@yahoo.com. You can also follow them on Twitter @BVHofficialja and on Facebook.

 

 

 

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