Mensana Jamaica is a mental health support group that does much-needed work here in Jamaica. Below is Mensana’s message for today (October 10, 2014) – World Mental Health Day. There is still much work to be done in support of Jamaicans living with mental illness. If you are in Kingston and would like to support the organization in its annual fundraiser, please join them for the traditional “Saturday Soup” tomorrow.
Mensana Jamaica welcomes the observance of World Mental Health Day on October 10. The focus on schizophrenia this year is most appropriate in our view as schizophrenia is a very common mental illness, but is grossly misunderstood by most Jamaicans. Consequently caregivers and loved ones of persons living with schizophrenia and many persons living with schizophrenia themselves, experience a lot of suffering due to ignorance, fear, misconceptions, stigma, shame and discrimination.
Mensana knows about that. We hear about it from our members all the time.
Mensana Jamaica is a mental health support group comprising caregivers, other family members and persons living with mental illnesses.
It was started in Kingston, in 1997 by two mothers of sons with schizophrenia and a psychiatrist.
The word “Mensana” is derived from the Latin phrase “Mens Sana in Corpore Sana” which translates to “A healthy (sound) mind in a healthy body”. Hence our slogan: “For a whole mind, body and spirit.”
Mensana Jamaica meets once per month, 10:00 a.m. every second Saturday only, at the Quakers meeting place, 11 Caledonia Avenue, Kingston 5.
Mensana Jamaica’s objectives are three-fold:
Support and Information Sharing – In addition to caregivers and loved-ones of persons living with a range of mental illnesses, our support group also includes professional mental health caregivers such as psychiatrists, mental health nurses and counsellors and, persons living with mental illnesses. In our sharing sessions participants discuss their concerns and stressors, and are helped by the feedback and advice. They also benefit from a feeling of safety to share in a space where others understand what they are going through. In August Mensana Jamaica conducted a caregivers retreat to really help members get to the heart of the issues that affect family and caregivers of persons with mental illnesses. Mensana also reaches out to other groups that help persons living with mental illnesses, such as the Open Arms Drop In Centre on Windward Road. We have conducted talks for the family members of the patients at the Bellevue Hospital and fostered the commencement of other mental health support groups such as one for Spanish Town in 2012.
Advocacy and Public Awareness – Mensana Jamaica is a registered, non-government voluntary organization and is a part of the Civil Society response for Mental Health in Jamaica. Through public forums, media appearances, work-shops, conferences and participation in national technical working groups and advisory committees, Mensana advocates for improved national mental health services, and builds awareness to end stigma and discrimination.
Some of the national committees on which Mensana is represented include:
- The Task force to revise the National Mental Health Policy,
- The Ministry of Health (MOH) community health and psychiatry human rights committee and
- The Joint Meeting of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Mental Health Services of the MoH)
There are several issues in mental health that members of Mensana believe need urgent attention. Some of these are:
- Access to appropriate and adequate health care is a right, which is not afforded to most persons with mental illness in Jamaica. Such care involves not only chemical management but also psycho-social support and rehabilitation services. In Jamaica there is emphasis on chemical management with little or no psycho-social support.
- Treatment of the mentally ill in the penal system is still abysmal. There are illegal incarcerations due to lack of hospital space, no forensic psychiatric services and one or two psychiatrists working in the prisons. Delays in psychiatric evaluations of arrested persons result in long detention in jail, and mentally ill persons are being ‘lost’ in the prisons for decades because of being unfit to plead. There is also no social support for persons released. In addition to these issues, there is evidently limited police training in appropriate methods of restraint leading to excessive force and frequent instances of persons being shot and killed. It is important to note however, that the Police have a well thought out draft policy for dealing with the mentally ill. We commend them in their efforts to put this together, however we are calling for their speedy ratification and implementation of this policy. Should this be done, we would see far fewer incidences of the violation of the rights of the mentally ill by the Police.
- The Community Mental Health Services need more vehicles, vehicle maintenance and upkeep in order to help them to better serve the needs in community mental health care.
- Jamaica’s Mental Health Policy is still in draft stage and has been for years. Although some good ideas are in this draft and would make for significant improvement in the management of our mental health program if implemented, the policy is still in limbo.
- As our country gets ready to decriminalize ganja, we seriously question our preparedness to manage the expected increase in usage of ganja particularly by the youth population.
We mean to keep these and other critical mental health issues in public focus until they no longer exist.
Public Awareness & Education: Public awareness and education are keys in tackling stigma and discrimination. We try to keep our membership informed about mental health issues locally and internationally. Our meetings are often attended by experts on various mental health issues who are specially invited to share on these issues. Our last speaker was Dr. Winston De La Haye of the Department of Psychiatry who came in September to share about the implications of the decriminalization of ganja, in order to arm us with the facts on this issue.
Once a month Mensana Jamaica conducts talks with the student doctors at UWI to acquaint them with the issues that affect caregivers of persons with mental illnesses.
Our facebook page – Mensana Jamaica, is the most recent addition to our public education efforts.
It is important for the public to better understand mental illness and to respond to persons who are affected without fear, stigma and discrimination. Mental illness is treatable. The negative effects need not be a life sentence. With appropriate treatment, understanding and support, persons living with mental illnesses can recover and live meaningful lives.