THE violence producers driving Jamaica's high homicide figures are individuals whose mental ill health issues were neglected during childhood, says one school psychologist, warning that worse is yet to come if troubled children continue to be ignored.
“Children with mental health challenges grow up to be adults with mental health challenges, and the things that we are reading in the newspapers and seeing on the news — these adults were not born big, as we say,” Kellie-Anne Brown Campbell, licensed associate school psychologist at McCam Child Care and Development Centre, shared.
She told Edge 105 FM radio in a recent interview: “A lot of these issues that they have, the emotional torture, the trauma that they experienced as children ,is what we are seeing playing out as they become adults in our society — and we cannot afford it.
Official figures from the Jamaica Constabulary Force state that the country has had over 1,000 murders every year since 2004, based on police figures. Since the start of the year there have been 579 murders across the island.
Her observations come in the wake of last week's revelation in a Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) report that only eight per cent of Jamaican children are having their mental health needs met because of the inability to attract professionals to care for them due to low wages and poor working conditions.
The CaPRI study titled: Mind the Gap – the inadequacy of mental health services for children, released last Tuesday, said: “Given the easy mobility of medical professionals, as long as remuneration for mental health practitioners in Jamaica remains far below the rest of the region and North America, the staffing needs of Jamaica's mental health system will likely never be met.”
CaPRI, only in May this year, highlighted the fact that Jamaica continues to experience some of the highest rates of crime and violence in the world and has the highest per capita murder rate in the Latin American and Caribbean region.
Between 2013 and 2018, males under the age of 35 represented 77 per cent of those arrested and charged with a category one crime.
Brown Campbell last week noted that prolonged abuse and pressure meted out to children works beneath the surface in destructive ways.
“What you find is that for our children, when they are in that toxic stressed environment what happens is that it actually changes the brain, it changes how you function. It actually has physical effects as well that can have long-lasting impact so as an adult you may be more prone to heart disease; you might actually be more susceptible to things like cancer, strokes, all of these things, and so this is something we have to pay attention to,” she stressed.
Like CaPRI, she lamented the deficit of child mental health professionals including psychologists and psychiatrists.
“I have several colleagues who have left. Unfortunately in Jamaica we are still at a place where I don't know that we value social services the way that we should and so it's not just child psychologists — we have persons like speech therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and other mental health practitioners [who have left],” she pointed out.
“We only have three child psychiatrists in the entire island. That is just mind-blowing,” Brown Campbell emphasised.
Commenting on CaPRI's recommendation for the expansion and scaling up of existing evidence-based programmes that address children's mental health needs, she said sustainability remains the challenge.
“Jamaica is not short of ideas, we are not short of brilliant minds both in the public and private sector. We have been spending a lot of time to do projects and so on but the reality is, we do these projects, they last for about two, three years and then that's it, nothing happens; there is no sustainability. So I think what we have to start doing as a nation public and private sector [is] to come together to say whatever is happening with our children is impacting all of us so how can we come together and ensure that these evidence-based projects are sustained,” she said.
“I believe that it [report] is very critical. What is important now is that we stop talking so much. I think we talk a little bit too much in this country — we need to start taking action. This was a very timely study by CaPRI and I think it really did a lot in terms of highlighting the inadequacies. Nobody is pointing fingers at all. I think it is just a matter of facing the realities and knowing that,” Brown Campbell declared.