Jamaicans urged to be more caring towards people with mental illness

Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Christopher Tufton speaking at the launch of the ministry’s mental health campaign ‘Speak Up, Speak Now’ at the Bellevue Hospital in Kingston (Photo: Christopher Lewinson)

Minister of Health and Wellness Dr. Christopher Tufton has called on Jamaicans to dismiss the longstanding myths about mental illness and come together to help address the issue.

Dr. Tufton, speaking at the Bellevue Hospital in Kingston, where his ministry launched its ‘Speak Up, Speak Now’ campaign on Thursday, argued that the time has come for the public to adopt a more understanding, sensitive outlook toward those who grapple with varying mental illnesses.

“Every single Jamaican needs to come to terms with the reality of mental illness. We need to reconcile in our minds that reality with the traditional perceptions we have around mental illness,” he said.

“Let’s be frank, for the average Jamaican, mental illness means ‘mad people’. It means somebody you must reject, an outcast; you can’t help them, they’re hopeless,” Tufton argued, adding that in most instances, people with mental illness are just abandoned or institutionalised.

Photo: Talkspace

“That is the popular view, and I’m here to say, that view has created us a society that has been uncaring, insensitive and, more often than not, cruel to people with mental health illnesses,” he continued.

The campaign, commemorating World Mental Health Day, was praised for its visionary approach – having been launched at Bellevue, Jamaica’s only mental health hospital.

“Today, World Mental Health Day, I am challenging the Jamaican people, let us rid our minds of that perception, face the realities around mental illness and deal with it in a way that advances a more progressive and productive arrangement to solving the challenges around mental illness,” Dr. Tufton said.

Dr. Christopher Tufton (Photo: Christopher Lewinson)

‘Mental illness can affect just about anyone’

Mental illness is all too real for many Jamaicans as a local survey cites near four of every 10 citizens, who at some point in their lives, will suffer from some form of mental illness – whether anxiety, depression, schizophrenia or other issues.

In addition, one in every five young Jamaicans suffer from mental illness. Across the country, the highest overall prevalence of depression is in the 15 to 24 years, 25 to 34 years and over 75 years age groups.

Also, according to statistics, in Jamaica today, between 45 and 55 persons commit suicide each year based on mental illness. Globally, one million persons take their own lives each year.