Sunday, February 15, 2009

Just get some help

The first penis I ever saw was hanging long and dirty between the legs of a 'mad' man walking nonchalantly along a street in Kingston. It was startling for me as a child and, now that I think about it, may have caused me to have rather unrealistic expectations. Disheveled men and women with dirt-caked skin and thickly matted hair were, and unfortunately continue to be, the picture of mental disease and emotional disorders in Jamaica.

Children who had trouble sitting still or learning were energetic, or worse, 'just bad.' They did not have ADHD or ADD. People were moody, not bi-polar. Troubled couples argued and fought until one's spirit was broken into submission or they tired of each other and went their separate ways. They did not seek out the services of a therapist. New mothers were tired and 'miserable,' not suffering from post partum depression.

According to a April 28 Jamaica Gleaner article by Latoya Grindley, suicide numbers in Jamaica have been steadily rising, but people were generally unable to recognize even glaring signs of depression. Jamaica's Ministry of Health's National Policy for The Promotion of Healthy Lifestyle has strategies to address chronic diseases, reproductive health and violence, but nothing on mental health. According to a 2001 report from the World Health Organization, mental health treatment is provided in large part by primary care doctors and nurses. For every group of 10,000 in Jamaica, there are only five psychiatric beds, less than one psychiatrist per 10,000 people, even fewer psychologists, and only eight psychiatric nurses. There is little public education to counteract the stigma associated with mental conditions and statistics are unreliable.

It is no wonder then that so many Jamaicans lose time and happiness suffering from emotional and mental problems that could be resolved with some couch time and/or medication. Insecurities, low self-esteem, depression, daddy issues, fear of abandonment that come as a result of sexual abuse, absent or abusive parents, or by a chemical imbalance in the brain are ignored, overlooked or accepted as character flaws.

There is no telling how many of Jamaica's children are written off as dunce when they are actually dyslexic or have Attention Deficit Disorder. How many young women's promiscuity is symptomatic of sexual abuse? How many people who suffered through teasing or isolation as children have become self-conscious and insecure adults? How many couples are wondering why their love does not seem to be enough to sustain their relationship? How many people are being hard on themselves because they cannot seem to snap out of their depression?

Guarding our mental health should be no different from protecting our teeth. There is no shame in getting a cavity, only if you allow your whole mouth to go rotten. There is no shame in being depressed, or just needing to talk with someone trained to guide you to solutions. A little couch time never hurt anybody.

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