Mental Illness Worry

Professionals say data suggest doubling of cases in 10 years

By Kimone Thompson Associate editor - features thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

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IF current trends continue, the number of mentally ill people in the country could double in the next 10 years, according to psychiatric nursing aides — the corps of professionals who work closest with the mentally ill here.In an exclusive interview with the Jamaica Observer on Monday, the Psychiatric Nursing Aide Association of Jamaica said the projected increase will be due to a combination of economic, social and environmental factors, and is in line with the increased number of cases documented over the last 10 years.

Without divulging exact numbers, which it said would be in breach of Ministry of Health media relations guidelines, the association said based on the number of new mental health cases handled each week, and the number of calls it receives to respond to crises each day, the country is heading for what it described as an epidemic.

Another key indicator, it said, is the fact that 10 years ago the association — for which the ministry offers training based on need — was only half its current strength of some 400 members.

“At the moment, at least three to four out of every 10 Jamaicans have some type of psychiatric or mental disorder,” association president Gary Hemmings reported.

Hemmings' data, drawn from 10 years' professional experience working as part of the community mental health team based at St Jago Health Centre in Spanish Town, is in keeping with previously published research by Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of the West Indies Professor Frederick Hickling, who found in a 2011 study that 40 per cent of the population suffered from a type of mental illness.

But the figure gets even higher, Hemmings argued, if one considers that “there are a lot more persons who are suffering from stress disorders, psychosis, brain and psychotic disorders, depression, etc, who cannot even identify that they are experiencing these symptoms because they don't know what they have”.

That, coupled with medical evolution, which he said will soon flag behaviours that are now considered normal and acceptable as diagnosable illness, could inflate the numbers even further.

“Within the next 10 to 15 years, mental illness in Jamaica is going to double or triple...[because] Jamaica is a very stressful and depressing place,” said Hemmings, whose colleagues Dennis Delisser, first vice-president, and Elsie Palmer, public relations officer, were in the interview.

The trio argued that a significant increase in both personnel and material resources is going to be necessary for the country to effectively deal with the projected increase. At present, the nursing aide association has some 400 members, and each parish is served by a single bus which ferries teams to mentally ill patients across the parish.

“There just isn't enough staff who are working in community mental health services to respond to all the psychiatric emergencies that come up each day,” Hemmings complained. “If you get the statistics from the Ministry of Health, it would be dozens per day.

“So if, for example, the team is in St Catherine serving Guy's Hill at the clinic there and visiting patients in the community and they get a call from Hellshire, that person will have to wait until the team makes its way down from Guy's Hill. Ideally, I think that each parish should have four to five ambulances and four to five teams,” he continued.

The Psychiatric Nursing Aide Association is observing its 45th anniversary on Friday with a prayer breakfast and the launch of a scholarship fund named in honour of association founder William Elliot. Money raised is expected to benefit children affected by mental illness. There are also plans to mount a mental health awareness campaign as a means of either preventing some illnesses or directing people to treatment options and facilities.


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