Massive public health stance needed for male mental health in Jamaica

Nicole
Nation

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

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As a millennial Jamaican woman I have lived to see the day when the mental health of our men is clearly at a crucial tipping point; dare I say it, in danger of reaching a point of no return. My beloved country, dubbed one of the “murder capitals of the world”, is unfortunately on its way to adding another title to its rap sheet — intimate partner violence capital of the world!

I first became interested in the issue when in late 2018 attorney, Nordraka Williams-Burnett, was killed by her husband who it was later revealed had mental health challenges. Only months later, the same fate was being meted out again to Rouleen Clarke-Gowans in the Waltham Park Road murder-suicide by her estranged husband. In both instances the children bore witness to these horrific killings. What then will be the outcome of the mental health of these children? If you think that the extremes of age would be a preventive factor for such occurrences, it is not. An elderly man then attempted another murder-suicide in the Mountain View area. After the recent spate of homicide-suicides I was left distraught and perturbed.

In a paper by Christopher Charles, entitled “Masculinity and Civilian Murder-Suicides in Newspaper Reports”, it was found that of the reported murder-suicides in Jamaica between 2003 and 2016, 86.5 per cent of the perpetrators were men, while 73.91 per cent of the victims were women. It is clear that a tangible plan is needed to specifically address the mental health needs of potential perpetrators, our Jamaican men. With civilian murder-suicides staged to become a copycat crime in Jamaica of epidemic proportions, it is evident that there needs to be a forensic examination of the issue as well as the development of the strategies to solve this issue.

I would want to challenge dancehall artistes who reinforced hard-core masculinity in our culture to take a stance and endorse the promotion of healthy relationship skills as a remedy. The introduction of a national public education campaign specifically addressing solutions to domestic conflicts needs to be a target for the Jamaican Government. Deconstructing issues such as power dynamics between Jamaican men and women and masculinity and socialisation in Jamaica through research must be a part of the plan.

The Jamaican family dynamics needs to be actively strengthened. Who teaches our women how to be wives and mothers? Who teaches our men how to be husbands and fathers? Who teaches our children about gender equality? Attendance at violence-prevention workshops and counselling services need to be as commonplace as the appearance at a street dance on some Jamaicans' weekend itinerary.

Health care workers need to be taught how to screen women, especially those of reproductive age, for any signs of intimate partner violence. Stakeholders such as campaigners and charities need to keep up the pressure, because solutions are needed.

Personally, I believe that the “bystander syndrome” in Jamaica has to end. It is said that Rouleen Clarke-Gowans suffered for years at the hands of her husband and nothing was done. The bystander syndrome was in effect. Increase awareness of domestic violence and its ripple effects is everybody's business. A task force dedicated to intimate partner violence should be established to both protect victims and rehabilitate perpetrators. All bases must be covered.

There needs to be formal recognition of domestic violence as a public health issue in Jamaica. Just as how yearly statistics are published on the number of road accidents or the number of dengue cases in Jamaica. There needs to be a yearly report by this task force about the number of murder-suicides committed in Jamaica and what is being done about it. If I recall correctly, a state of emergency was enacted to quell the increase in crime. I would very much like to see a reaction of similar magnitude being rolled out in an effort to decrease the incidence of murder-suicides in Jamaica.

This may all sound alarmist, And, admittedly, I write to you out of self-interest, as I too have a personal stake in this issue being fully addressed. This is because the Jamaican men who commit these hideous crimes against the women of this country cannot be differentiated by class, age or religion. They do not bear a physical indicator and often subtle signs are missed. No woman in Jamaica should consider herself immune to the fate which befell our sisters. There is indeed a distinct possibility that a similar fate could be meted out to someone I love or, dare I say it, I myself could become a victim. Therefore, how can I turn a blind eye? Clearly, as a Jamaican woman, I not only have to think about protecting myself whilst outside my home from criminals. I now have to think to protect myself inside my own home. Sisters, sleep with one eye open.

Nicole Nation is a medical doctor and a 2018/19 Jamaican Chevening scholar. She is currently studying for a master of science in public health in the UK. Send comments to the Observer or butter7almond@gmail.com.


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