The World Health Organization estimates that around 20% of the Jamaican population suffers from some type of mental health issue. This includes the 3% that suffer from depression and the 4% that suffer from anxiety. One of the many factors that affect mental health in Jamaica is poverty. Not having access to essential resources can lead to a number of mental health problems like anxiety, depression and even suicide.
Many Jamaicans live in disadvantaged communities with limited access to resources such as health care, education or employment. Conditions like this can lead to stress and inadvertently increase the risk of mental illness. Negative stigma about mental health exists all over the world. The stigma around mental health in Jamaica can make things incredibly difficult.
Many Jamaicans view mental illness as a weakness or a sign of fragility. This often leads to those with mental illness not seeking help out of fear of being judged. These harmful stigmas only force more Jamaicans to suffer in silence. The government has been working to solve this growing issue by increasing awareness and reducing the stigma around mental health in Jamaica.
One of the ways Jamaica is addressing this is with the “Speak Up, Speak Now” campaign by the Ministry of Health & Wellness.
The Ministry is a government organization that oversees Jamaica’s public health system and leads the national effort to protect Jamaicans’ rights to access health care services. Its most recent target has been mental health in Jamaica. According to their website, MOHW’s goal is to “ensure the provision of quality health services and to promote healthy lifestyles and environmental practices.” The ministry started the campaign to destigmatize mental health in Jamaica and to connect people to the resources that they need. It also aims to educate and encourage Jamaicans to speak freely about mental illness.
The Ministry’s website includes many different resources for Jamaicans seeking help with their overall health. The mental health section includes a short video giving encouraging words to those dealing with depression due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Below the video, there are more than a dozen posters with facts and tips about different mental health issues and how to overcome them.
When the campaign first launched, they activated a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline for Jamaica’s residents. The campaign also partnered with the United Nations Children’s Fund, a digital platform that sends messages to cell phones, three times in 2019. The campaign reached more than 1,500 young people with suicide prevention tips. Since around 20% of Jamaican children have a mental disorder, the message needed to reach many people.
The number of children with mental illness is linked to poverty as well. In 2018 at least 25% of Jamaican children lived below the poverty line. When adults do not have access to essentials, it often leads to mental illness. The same thing applies to children.
The campaign does not end there. In February 2022, the ministry worked with Bellevue Hospital in Kingston to upgrade its mental health services. Some of these improvements include developing guidelines for managing psychiatric emergencies, investing in buses for transporting patients and purchasing standardized restraints for hospitals and community emergencies.
This campaign has done wonders for its community ever since it emerged in 2019. It will no doubt continue to educate the population and destigmatize mental health in Jamaica.
– Brianna Leonard