Neighbours must lean on each other

There are Jamaicans today still haunted by memories of having to dive under their beds as gunmen traded bullets in politically tribalised, socio-economically depressed communities during the 1970s and 80s.

Younger Jamaicans need to know that, back in the late 1970s, the country teetered on the edge of civil war because of the ideological divide between the People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

Indeed, even before that, in the 1960s, people in Kingston Western were traumatised by war between JLP and PNP for control of that constituency.

Those were the days when politicians — to their everlasting disgrace — distributed guns and ammunition to young men.

It was in the extremely politically tribalised atmosphere of those days that a gun culture took firm root in Jamaica. That atmosphere nurtured the formation of garrisons – entire communities in which one or the other of the two political parties dominated completely with no tolerance for an opposing view.

There was consternation in 1980 when well in excess of 800 murders were committed — the most ever recorded in Jamaica in a single year up to that time.

Mental health issues, as reported on by yesterday's Sunday Observer, spurred by fear, anxiety and uncertainty, were as prevalent in impoverished, violence-torn communities half a century ago, as they are today.

The difference now is that, while partisan politics is no longer a driver, violent crime is far more widespread.

Largely driven by competing gangsters involved in such activities as lotto scamming, drug running and extortion, there were 1,463 murders in Jamaica last year. Many occurred in deep rural communities that were blissfully at peace not so long ago. We are told there were 72 murders in the first 15 days of this year and 20 murders over two days last week.

The gruesome nature of some incidents nurtures thoughts of demons at work.

No wonder then that, according to Dr Beverley Scott, child and family therapist, a majority of her clients in recent times are very close to a mental diagnosis because of crime.

As we all know, COVID-19 has only made the situation much worse.

Dr Scott's recommends that Government “…dispatch social workers and emotional support to communities so people can get help… The Government needs to get persons who are trained in behaviour management to go into communities and stay there; have posts there so people can talk to them”. Says she: “People really need to talk. So many things are happening.”

Clearly, mental health staff in the public sector must go beyond the call of duty, as we suspect they are already doing.

It seems to us, however, that with the very limited resources to meet far too numerous demands on the Government, including funding initiatives to counter the rampaging criminals, expanding mental health services won't be easily done in the short term.

We believe that community members, especially natural leaders, though under pressure themselves, need to look out for those around them even more than was the case before. They may not be professional counsellors, but a friendly talk or a listening ear can make a world of difference.

More than ever before, people should be encouraged in whatever way possible to assertively help themselves and their neighbours.

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