February 8, 2023

Youth parliamentarian for St James East Central Djaunel Lawrence speaking during the 13th staging of the National Youth Parliament in Gordon House on Monday.

Unimpressed with current mental health interventions, youth parliamentarians on Monday made calls for better initiatives that will heighten awareness in schools and workplaces.

Youth parliamentarian for St Andrew South Eastern Javoy Crossman questioned the relevance of the wellness bench which was unveiled during the launch of the #DoYourShare Campaign designed to promote the expansion of safe spaces for mental health in October.

To support his point, Crossman shared examples of a man and a young woman suffering from mental health issues.

“Flex is a young man struggling with mental health. On June 22, Flex’s mother saw changes in his behavioural pattern and said, ‘But wait, you a mad now!’

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Youth parliamentarian for St Andrew South Eastern Javoy Crossman speaking on the issue of mental health during the 13th staging of the National Youth Parliament in Gordon House on Monday.

“Like Flex, Sharon, who works at a call centre, is stressed due to work and sometimes makes outbursts like ‘Jesus, mi tiad’. In the short term, mental health problems can cause people to be alienated from their peers because of perceived unattractive personality traits and behaviours,” said Crossman, who sat in the Opposition’s benches at the 13th staging of the National Youth Parliament.

“If you were someone unaware of mental health issues you would classify Sharon as a mad head. Now we have two similar individuals, Sharon and Flex, who people are now saying ‘a mad’. Imagine Flex and Sharon on the wellness bench; this serves to improve nothing. It is useless. In order to solve this issue we need more than just a wellness bench,” Crossman said, to much desk pounding from other youth parliamentarians.

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Crossman proposed that the Government explore training leaders and members of community-based and non-governmental organisations in treating people with mental health issues.

“Statistics from the Ministry of Health indicated that employee absenteeism, secondary to mental health issues, cost Jamaica $859 million alone between 2013 and 2014. I advise the Government to establish a private-public partnership geared at creating inclusive workplace policies to support staff living with mental health issues. This will prevent social exclusion and a decline in self-actualisation,” Crossman added.

Youth parliamentarian for St James East Central Djaunel Lawrence, who also represented the Opposition, stressed that better training should be provided for first responders.

“To overcome this stigma that is now like a plague, individuals need to be taught. Let us start with our first-line responders — the police. Under section 15 of the Mental Health Act, if a constable observes a person in a public area or under circumstances that suggest he is mentally ill the constable may, without a warrant, take the individual into custody and accompany him to a psychiatric facility for treatment. This begs the question: Are our officers adequately trained or trained at all for this matter?” she said.

“In a conversation with a trainee constable and a constable, imagine when asked if they were exposed to best practices on how to handle a hostile mentally ill person during and after training, both were left speechless,” she said.

She urged the Government to make amendments to the Jamaica Constabulary Force training curriculum by including 21st century training techniques which will provide the requisite skills, knowledge and best practices to restrain people with mental illness.

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Pointing to another suggestion for awareness, Lawrence said, “October 10 is internationally recognised as World Mental Health Day; however, we the Opposition believe that emphasis needs to be placed on this day. Therefore our proposal is that in public schools, like Peace Day, Jamaica Day, Jeans Day, Mental Wellness Day should be institutionalised so as to make children cognisant of the same. We could even go as far as to make it Mental Wellness Week, so that the focus on mental health and wellness can be even greater with the aid of weekly activities,” she said.