Mental health a bigger problem than we care to imagine — Tufton

Observer West writer

Thursday, August 30, 2018

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — Arguing that mental illness is a much bigger problem “than most of us are aware,” Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton says the stigma of being mentally ill is causing many sufferers and their families, not to seek well-needed treatment.

Speaking at the recent launch of the 10th Committee for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill (CUMI) Come Run fund-raising event at the Montego Bay Yacht Club, Dr Tufton pointed out that just about everyone, regardless of age, gender or status, is vulnerable to some form of mental illness at some time during their life.

“Mental illness is a much bigger problem within our society and our communities than we care to imagine. It's not just about the obvious signs of someone walking the streets and having nowhere to live… there are some signs that are not so obvious among groups,” he noted.

Research, the minister informed, has shown that approximately four of every 10 Jamaicans at some point in their life experience some sort of mental challenge, “whether it would be depression, schizophrenia, anxiety…”

“We are all vulnerable in the normal course of our lives, not that we are particularly special or particularly disadvantaged, we are all vulnerable, and it is important that we all recognise that fact and do something about it, because one day it could be anyone of us, that is just the reality, it is a global phenomenon and becoming more so,” Dr Tufton shared.

“If we were to interview most of the persons who were considered street people, not having a home because of mental breakdown, we would find out that many of them have families, many of them homes, many of them have dependents or friends, or relatives who could well have advanced an approach to keeping them on a particular path that would not allow them or cause them to be on the streets.”

He argued that because of a lack of treatment and rejection, many mentally ill people are being considered as outcasts.

“That is why many of these people end up on the streets, so in a sense we have rejected or abandoned our duties and responsibilities to our family members, to our close friends and associates, and basically allowed them to feel as if they are outcasts which has only amplified the conditions to get them back to stability,” said the health minister.

“The only way that we are going to overcome that mindset is to focus heavily on de-stigmatisation. The stigma is the greatest scourge on the mentally challenged and on our society, as it relates to the treatment and rehabilitation of the mentally challenged,” he stressed.

Those with issues or those who knew of people with mental issue, he said, should not feel bad about seeking help.

“We need to say to Jamaicans if you feel like you need help it is okay to seek help through CUMI, schools and churches… part of our recommendation is to sensitise a wider cross section of society, including specific training in order for them to cope with recognising the signs of persons who are mentally challenged, but also dealing with those who require assistance because they feel they require that kind of help depending on their own state of mind.”

The Ministry of Health, he noted, will be extending their outreach programmes into the schools, as they try to reach the younger population.

“We are also going into the schools to deal with guidance councillors, principals and PE (physical education) teachers, because if you look in the school system, one of the things that comes up a lot in the surveys, is that even at that level we see children behaving a particular way, and our immediate response is to say they are deviants, they are bad kids they have not gott home training, but, more often than not, they are experiencing mental issues, which are linked to a range of things.

“The last survey that I looked at dealing with lifestyle among that age cohort, it was frightening to me, as it indicated that 18 per cent of our high school cohort, considered suicide at some point during that time span, and that's a frightening statistic, and that clearly speaks to the state of mind of those individuals and clearly speaks to the need for assistance,” said Dr Tufton.

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