Mental health on the front burner for Jamaica at 60
Mrs Keisha Bowla-Hines

The older ones among us are well aware that at Jamaica's arrival as a sovereign nation 60 years ago, mental health wasn't perceived or treated in the way it is today.

Back then the problem was a source of shame for many people, swept under the carpet — concealed from prying eyes.

Thanks to gradual maturing, Jamaicans at their 60th anniversary are much more prepared to confront mental illness and to proactively seek help for themselves, relatives and friends rather than simply wait for the dreaded breakdown.

We take note of the chat service, U-Matter, said to be the first of its kind when it was developed earlier this year by the Ministry of Health and Wellness in partnership with The University of the West Indies and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Using popular social media/online platforms, U-Matter has unveiled worrying trends involving some young people toying with thoughts of suicide related to depression, anxiety, loneliness, lack of support, and performance pressures.

As is the case everywhere, the novel coronavirus pandemic has only made the situation much worse.

Thankfully, we hear that Jamaica's suicide rate remains among the lowest in the world — something to be quietly celebrated, given crime and other socio-economic maladies haunting this country at 60.

It seems to us that the responsibility for keeping that suicide rate low is not just that of mental health specialists and experts. It falls to the lot of all of us as individuals, neighbours, friends, relatives.

For as Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said back in March: "I do believe that in every single household in Jamaica — amplified by the COVID experience — there is a citizen who suffers in silence from one form of mental disorder or another." And further, according to the minister back then, pre-COVID studies had suggested that "four out of every 10 Jamaicans, at some point in their life, will experience some form of mental health-related challenge... People are stressed, people are lonely, people feel uncertain and fearful, and it is our role to renew hope".

Associate clinical psychologist Mrs Keisha Bowla-Hines, who is probably an ice cream lover, urges people to treat themselves from time to time as part of mental health therapy.

"On the weekend, go and buy yourself a nice ice cream cone just because you like it and sit and look at the ice cream, see the colour of it, taste it, feel it, experience it with everything so that on Monday morning when you go to work you remember the ice cream. We don't do that — we are always rushing, which is why we can't sleep," she told a Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange recently.

For many of us ice cream may not be the answer. But as individuals we usually know what will help us relax. Most importantly perhaps, we know how best to help those around us relax, breathe easier, and rid themselves of the negatives threatening to pull them under.

As we look to renew and refresh our efforts to build our country, what better launching pad than to offer that hand of not just physical and material but emotional and psychological support to those within reach?

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