Mental health is a universally recognized aspect of overall well-being that deserves dedicated commitment. Unfortunately, there are many in various cultures that shirk the seriousness of it for assumptions and myths that downplay the significance. Jamaica is one such culture that is not short on less-than-stellar views on the importance of mental health, and below you will find a quick listing of the five most common myths held.
There is no such thing as depression (or any other commonly named mental illness) in Jamaica.
I recently had a (quite short) conversation with a relative, who made a point to insist repeatedly that depression, or any mental illness for that matter, is not an issue that we face here in lovely JA. This is one unfortunately common notion that enables the lack of proactive conversation regarding mental and emotional wellness. In an environment that does not allow space for certain kinds of free expression, it can be difficult to help those that truly need assistance.
Mental illness is very real, and while there is some significant consensus that it is not a serious issue for Jamaicans, the nation would be apt to acknowledge that it is affecting quite a large number of the population. As recently as 2015, more than 100,000 individuals pursued treatment for psychological issues in Jamaica. This figure is a significant increase from the years prior, illustrating that uptake in seeking out help and treatment has increased. The most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses in Jamaica are depression and schizophrenia.
People with mental illness look like “that madman on the street.”
If you have been raised in a Caribbean country, or even a Caribbean-household abroad, it’s likely that you’ve heard any number of quips, theories, or other such misguided representations, on what it means to be an individual living with a mental illness. When mental illness is seen as a concept that essentially doesn’t really exist and is “all in your head”, it comes at no surprise that the most common image portrayed is that of an individual (usually a man), who roams the streets aimlessly, his dirty, tattered clothes leaving little to the imagination. To this image, add the sound effects of foolish rambles that have no direction, and that my dear, is what is known as The Madman.
While I would do this stereotype no good by trying to explain the history behind it (that is another post for another day), I will mention that the fact that this image exists is ironic. Mental illness is rooted in the brain/mind and affects different people in a variety of ways. There are rarely any specific physical attributes that can pinpoint the existence of mental ill-health. They don’t call them “invisible illnesses” for nothing.
Individuals of a younger age SHOULD not claim to experience issues with mental health.
Let me see a show of hands to anyone who may have found themselves in conversation about mental health, and came away wondering if it’s true that you should NOT be experiencing the things that you are because you are young. I’m confident that I am not the only one whose right hand shot towards the ceiling, while thinking instantly of the more seasoned generations that never seem to shy away from sharing their many opinions. Many parents, grandparents, and older family members are under the impression that youth equates carefree freedom and unmistakable privilege.
Without the responsibility of a mortgage or three children hanging over your head (even if you do have those things!), these figures from the older generation cannot fathom that mental health is not hinged on age, gender, or socioeconomic status.
Approximately 20% of individuals who have a diagnosed mental illness had significant symptoms emerge as young teenagers, and the prognosis is dependent on how soon the issue is recognized and acknowledged. Negative mental health experiences develop for any number of complicated reasons, and the factors are not any less severe due to age, whether young or old.
Negative mental health is only a matter of being more positive and snapping yourself out of it.
“Just stay positive!”
“You will feel better if you try hard enough.”
Mental illness is not a sign of a flaw in character, and with the multi-dimensionality of how mental disorders can be expressed, there is no single method to recovery. Many people need help from a variety of different treatment options in order to regain a greater handle on their mental wellness. Anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and attention deficit disorders, for example, require professional assistance to be alleviated. Willpower has very little to do with it, and positivity is not an indicator of mental health recovery.
Mental illness is a sign of the Devil working. You just need to pray about it.
We (Jamaicans) just might be in the top most superstitious people in the world. Our local culture is peppered with a number of stories about supernatural beings, happenings, and rules about bad luck. The most common trope, especially when it comes to ill health of any nature, is that the work of the “Devil” is at play. While cultural heritage is important to be preserved, this line of thinking can be dangerous, especially in cases of severe mental illness. There are many factors that contribute to the state of an individual’s mental, including environmental, biological, and personal life experiences.
These assumptions based in religious/spiritual superstitions shift the focus from the individual’s “invisible” disease, to third party figure. So, while the stories that your Grandmother tells can be entertaining, they do nothing to improve the mental health behavior and attitudes in our island home.
Download your copy of the mental health in Jamaica fact sheet HERE!
What are some other myths about mental health that you’ve heard from family, friends, or the general community? Feel free to comment below, and even check in with us over on Twitter.
Rooting For You,