Don't 'diss' the community of the mentally ill

Letters to the Editor

Don't 'diss' the community of the mentally ill

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

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Dear Editor,

I had the privilege and pleasure of reading the recommendations in the report of the Task Force on Mental Illness and Homelessness in its entirety and I am very disappointed. There is nothing in the recommendations which speaks to life insurance for mental illness.

Currently, as I understand it, there is no life insurance coverage for mental illness in Jamaica.

Am I to understand that mental illness is not a chronic disease like diabetes or hypertension which, if not treated, will lead to premature death?

Also, am I to understand that the members of the task force never saw this act of discrimination as a cause worth fighting for by highlighting and treating with it in their recommendations? I am also disappointed that no mention was made of the need to enshrine the fundamental rights of the mentally ill in the constitution and not just an amendment to the Mental Health Act as posited.

There needs to be a form of affirmative action in the law for the community of the mentally ill which is not present in the recommendations put forward by the task force.

I also take offence with the fact that no mention was made regarding the use of pejorative terms in some of our current laws such as imbecile and lunatic. Stigma reduction has to begin with the use of terms that do not “diss” and “dehumanise” the community of the mentally ill. The fact that Minister Christopher Tufton never saw it practical or prudent to include even one mentally ill person on the task force, or to have wide consultations with the community of the mentally ill, speaks volumes to the smallness of importance and worth accorded to the community of the mentally ill.

Dr Tufton and the Ministry of Health and Wellness cannot be promoting community mental health policy in which it asks for the inclusion of the mentally ill in the homes and wider society while they are brushed aside at the policy level. Minister Tufton and the Ministry of Health and Wellness will have to practise what they preach if they are to be taken seriously and to be believed. If Dr Tufton and the ministry unwittingly give the impression through their actions that mentally ill people cannot function at the policy level, it opens the gate for others to believe they can not function at any level.

It is my humble opinion that Minister Tufton should place the recommendations contained in the report before a joint select committee of Parliament for further study and invite the community of the mentally ill to contribute towards its improvement. Then, just maybe, Minister Tufton and the team he leads at the Ministry of Health and Wellness can redeem themselves in the eyes of the over 100,000 people in Jamaica today living with mental illness.

Andre Wellington

Christiana PO


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