Mental health and collective justice in Jamaica
May is when we observe Mental Health Awareness Month. We, as a nation, have a long road ahead to fight the stigma linked to mental health issues. Sure, we’ve made some progress, but we need to keep pushing for solid and effective government and organisational policies that back those wrestling with mental health challenges. It’s time the nation makes an effort to remind all Jamaicans about the importance of mental health.
This month, I propose that we — teachers, guidance counsellors, media practitioners, managers, and all members of society — collectively recognise mental health’s crucial role in our overall wellness and quality of life. Let’s commit to doing at least one thing to foster open dialogue about mental illnesses. Over the last three years, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted people’s mental health worldwide, and Jamaica hasn’t been spared. The uncertainty, fear, and social isolation linked to the pandemic have increased stress levels and triggered mental health issues in many individuals.
Mental Health Awareness Month should be a beacon of renewed hope, a call to awareness, understanding, empathy, and action for more to be done at the micro, meso, and macro levels in support of those facing mental health challenges. I believe we should treat this epidemic of mental health in our society as an issue of collective justice.
When I think of collective justice, “Ubuntu”, an African philosophical concept from southern Africa, comes to mind. It talks about our interconnectedness, interdependence, and our responsibility to each other. It mirrors the idea that we become human through other people — our humanity is mutually dependent. It means mental health isn’t just an individual concern but a societal issue that needs collective action and responsibility.
Mental health disorders don’t discriminate, affecting everyone across age groups, races, socio-economic statuses, and locations. Whether you live uptown or downtown, you can be affected by mental illness. However, access to mental health care and treatment quality can significantly differ based on factors like socio-economic status, race, and location, creating disparities in mental health outcomes. That’s where the concept of collective justice comes in. We must advocate for a fair and equitable distribution of mental health resources and services across Jamaica’s communities, ensuring everyone has the necessary support to maintain good mental health.
This approach requires a comprehensive strategy, encompassing health policy changes, societal attitudes, preventive measures, education, destigmatisation efforts, and inclusive support systems. As a society, it’s our collective responsibility to ensure that mental health care isn’t a privilege but a right, accessible to all. Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, is there a strategy to ensure this is done? If not, let’s bring the stakeholders together and get it done. Too many people are just dying for a paycheque.
Many Jamaican workers are suffering from work-related stress and its detrimental impact on their mental health. These workers find themselves in high-pressure work environments, often working long hours with little or no time for self-care or relaxation, all in a bid to make ends meet. A friend recently told me she had “no more days” when I recommended that she apply for some days off to attend to her mental health, all while showing severe depressive symptoms.
Lack of job security, poor working conditions, or the fear of job loss and economic instability can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and depression among workers. This is exacerbated by the societal stigma around mental health, which prevents individuals from seeking help. It’s time we re-evaluated our work cultures in this country by placing a stronger emphasis on employees’ mental well-being. Employers need to recognise and address these issues, fostering work environments that support mental health, providing access to mental health resources, and creating policies that promote work-life balance.
Like the ‘Jamaica Moves’ campaign, I’m calling on employers, teachers, managers, the health ministry, and all relevant stakeholders to kick off a ‘You Matter’ campaign. This campaign would be a call to action to support each other’s mental health, highlighting the power of collective effort in building a mentally healthy community. It would also be about committing to creating an environment in which everyone feels valued, heard, and supported and affirming that every individual matters, their feelings and mental health are important.
The ‘You Matter’ campaign would involve various activities, like spreading awareness about mental health, hosting workshops and webinars on topics such as stress management and resilience, and sharing resources for accessing professional help. It would encourage open, non-judgemental conversations about mental health, help to break down stigmas, and foster a culture of understanding and empathy. The campaign would also stress the importance of regular check-ins with friends, colleagues, and loved ones, reminding them that they matter and aren’t alone in their struggles.
By launching the campaign, we can empower each other to prioritise mental health, thereby creating a ripple effect of support, empathy, and care within our community.
Let’s get serious. Take care of your mental health and remember, you matter!
Henry Lewis Jr is a PhD candidate, a social scientist, and an executive life coach. He lectures at University of Technology, Jamaica, in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.