The high value of empathy
Mrs Keisha Bowla-Hines, associate clinical psychologist

A leading lawyer reminds us that illegal drugs can land people in jail — useful information which should never be forgotten.

Of course, Jamaicans know from long experience that the threat of imprisonment won't stop dealing in, or, use of illegal substances. If that were the case, ganja would have become unmarketable generations ago.

Getting across the message that behaviour-changing, addictive substances possess the potential to do great harm to personal health and well-being is probably more useful.

Then again, context is always important since we are told some potentially harmful substances do have medicinal elements essential to treating various diseases and ailments.

We haven't heard if the synthetic drug 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA), referred to as Molly, has medical value. Experts say it alters mood and perception and is chemically similar to stimulants and hallucinogens.

What seems clear is that its use, particularly by young people who want to get 'high', is of growing concern to health specialists. And experts do say that children and young people are more vulnerable to addictive substances.

It's only to be expected that the young will want to experiment. The challenge for their elders is to try as best they can to encourage good sense and sensible choices.

Regardless of whether the substance is illegal or otherwise, when the subject has made a wrong choice with disastrous consequences such as addiction, what's to be done?

Finding answers is why we believe advice in yesterday's Sunday Observer from Mrs Keisha Bowla-Hines, associate clinical psychologist, should be a must-read for everyone, more particularly parents.

What many of us know, having witnessed it first hand, confirmed by Mrs Bowla-Hines, is that "recovering from drug use can be quite difficult..."

She emphasises that "a support network" will help. That is something we can all relate to.

The difficulty, it seems to us, is that not everyone feels able to provide that support by going the extra mile.

Mrs Bowla-Hines advises that parents and elders should be prepared to give the young "...a reasonable ear... trying to understand where they are coming from... It might mean going with them to receive counselling... it might mean taking extra steps to just sit with them when they are down or sad, it might mean simply recognising that perhaps some of the things that we have tried as parents may not have worked as effectively as we hoped".

Crucially, regardless of who you are, it's always useful to be able to imagine yourself in the circumstances of someone else, regardless of the age or situation of that other person. In the case of children and young people, it is surely useful for a parent or elder to recall his/her situation at a similar age.

If those trying to help can achieve that level of empathy they should be able to avoid the danger outlined by Mrs Bowla-Hines that, "Sometimes in our culture we tend to think that children have nothing to worry about except to eat and go to school or play..."

The truth is that empathy can go a long way in not only allowing adults to more constructively help children with problems such as addiction, it can make them much better parents.

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