Editorial

Hope that tragedy of Clacken death brings awareness

Monday, July 03, 2017

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The tragic death of Mr Haile Clacken 10 days ago in Cheapside, Junction, presents an opportunity for Jamaicans to take a fresh look at mental illness.

Had Mr Clacken been among those who walk the streets unwashed, half-naked, and largely incoherent his death would most likely have gone unnoticed.

But Mr Clacken, who was diagnosed many years ago with bipolar disorder, commanded respect for his mental capacity and for his service to the wider society.

A graduate of York University in Canada, Mr Clacken, in a short career in journalism, earned great respect from his colleagues. He was even more impressive as a teacher.

Note the glowing tributes from former colleagues, including journalist Mr Adrian Frater and retired St St Elizabeth educator, Mr Lackett Cuff.

Note also the testimony of friends and family regarding Mr Clacken's extraordinary generosity and deep spirituality. From all accounts, he was an extraordinary human being.

The many positives explain the widespread sadness and outrage at the manner of his death. Mr Clacken was reportedly shot and killed by a security guard after he climbed onto the roof of an armoured security vehicle in Junction.

People claiming to be eyewitnesses say the vehicle travelled for about a mile from Junction to Cheapside with Mr Clacken hanging on to the roof before he was shot.

Obviously there are many, many questions, and police investigators must be left to do their jobs.

What seems clear is that Mr Clacken's mental disorder dictated his decision to climb onto the truck — a move which eventually led to his death.

Mental experts say bipolar disorder, which is also known as manic depression, results in rapid and sometimes extreme mood swings, impulsive behaviour, poor judgement, high energy levels, sleeplessness — all of which can lead to much diminished capacity in day-to-day tasks.

Sadly, Jamaicans, in the main, have traditionally had very little patience or understanding of mental illness of any sort.

Yet conventional wisdom suggests that a fair percentage of people in this country suffer from mental health issues, and also many cases have remained undiagnosed.

It is in that context that this newspaper welcomes the decision of the Clacken family to use the opportunity presented by the death of their loved one to highlight the plight of the mentally ill. A very well attended, peaceful march and rally last Friday served that purpose extremely well.

And we are told that Mrs Lilieth Clacken, mother of the late Mr Clacken, has plans to launch a bipolar awareness programme. Hopefully, even out of this awful tragedy will come some good.

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