Jamaica could find itself at a tipping point, should the country continue to ignore the mental health issues being faced by its citizens.
The issue is further exacerbated for Jamaican men, who in such a hyper-masculine, oversexualised society, live by the ‘mantra’ that to show emotions of any kind, whether positive or negative, is a sign of weakness.
Executive Director for the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) Jaevion Nelson, gave BUZZ his views as we try to unearth how the island got here.
“We tell our boys, ‘Don’t cry'”– Jaevion Nelson, speaking with BUZZ
In an interview with BUZZ, Nelson said that Jamaican society has for many years ‘policed’ male behaviour and masculine expressionism – which has brought us to the point we are today.
“Generally, as a society I think we grew up to be very tough, particularly for boys. We tell our boys, ‘Don’t cry’ etc., and so from you were very young, you are policed, and you learn to suppress your emotions; to not show them in whatever circumstance as best as possible,” Nelson said.
“We don’t show emotions and if you [do], it must be through violence.”– J-FLAG Executive Director, Jaevion Nelson
“When we look at the general culture, I think for a number of us, it’s a huge part in how we perform masculinity. We don’t show emotions and if you [do], it must be through violence because that is the only way you will be a man,” he explained.
See more from our interview with Jaevion Nelson in the video below:
“From where I stand and my organisation, we are always concerned about how, as a people, we deal with issues. Certainly, for most of us in the Jamaican society, [we] want to be seen as the real man,” Nelson told BUZZ.
In seeking some insight, BUZZ also spoke in-depth with Reverend Al Miller, who expressed his concern around how these hurtful masculine stereotypes ran through the country.
Miller contended some of the societal ills facing Jamaica can be linked to the turmoil of the slavery era, as the island is still yet to fully heal from the scars of its abusive, violent past.
“We have restricted emotions to a category of whether you cry or not… that isn’t [even] one percent of the spectrum of human emotion”– Reverend Al Miller
“All behaviour is as a result of our varied human experiences, so what we have been through as a people would have affected how we think and therefore how we behave,” the reverend told BUZZ.
“There is the impact of slavery’s aftermath, but that concept has continued to evolve and remain with us in many respects, primarily because there is a totally mistaken concept that we have developed about ‘MAN’ and manhood,” Miller explained.
“This level of ignorance has allowed this misconception to remain and therefore affect behaviour and the society [as a whole] adversely,” he added.
The way Miller, who leads the Fellowship Tabernacle, sees it, humans were created by God as emotional beings, so to separate emotion from relationships and experiences is unhealthy.
“The truth is humans are fundamentally relational beings, and in the centre of relationships is emotion. We were created by God as emotional creatures,” Miller told BUZZ.
“A man must show tenderness…see the hurt and pain of others”Al Miller, speaking to BUZZ
“All of our responses are from emotion; you cannot divorce emotion from behavioural response because it is at the core of who we are. We’ve got to show that [emotion] is not a sign of weakness – I say on the contrary, it takes a real man to cry,” the reverend argued further.
Reverend Miller declared that it is a man’s duty to be emotional, but instead of denying those feelings, Jamaican men must be re-trained to properly manage and direct these emotions the right way.
“A man must show tenderness, show hurt and be able to see the hurt and pain of others; he must feel joy, fear and sadness. How can you say we’re not to show any emotion?” Miller asked.
“It is how we handle, manage, direct or suppress these emotions by whatever other factors of socialisation that has happened in our lives,” he told BUZZ.
Miller said he disagrees vehemently with the common misnomer that men who show emotions are “weak” – as well as the seemingly heightened lack of self-awareness in the Jamaican man, which has contributed to the problem.
“We have restricted emotions to a category of whether you cry or not but that isn’t [even] one percent of the spectrum of human emotion,” Miller asserted.
As sections of the island finally get the conversation started in getting the issue of ‘men and emotions’ addressed, Reverend Miller told BUZZ that acknowledging the problem is always the first step.
“It is important that we re-train our men because the system has given him an erroneous sense of manhood and some negative images have been planted in the mind and society supports and feeds that negative concept,” Miller said.
“And so, it has really become part of our cultural thinking in too significant a way. We’ve got to go back and reverse it because it’s not healthy, it’s not real,” Miller, a father of four, told BUZZ.
According to him, part of one’s personal development from infancy to maturity dictates that humans “must express and be honest about what we feel” – to deny genuine, real feelings results in a dishonest nature.
“That is why some of our men become so deceptive and lie and steal, because we’re suppressing natural responses to the events and circumstances of life,” Reverend Miller contended.
“…You cannot divorce emotion from behavioural response…it is at the core of who we are”– Rev. Al Miller
Stay tuned for part two of our Men & Emotions series, as BUZZ looks at what possible solutions are available to address this impending mental health crisis.