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In both my personal and professional life, I see persons fighting a battle between what persons expect of them and their true potential – often unbeknownst to them. I see persons engage in self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours because the work, discomfort and risk it takes to be truly great seems to be a cost too high to pay.

Persons define themselves or have definitions placed on them based on where they grew up, their gender, the colour of their skin, educational background and societal expectations. We settle into a routine which keeps us swimming round the same small fishbowl because of what we have chosen to believe for ourselves. Too many of us walk around with unlocked potential because we are afraid to do more, have more and be more…hell, some of us may not even know that there is more! For some of us it’s because we were never motivated by self or our loved ones to strive, while others of us know full well what we are capable of but choose not to push into that realm because it’s unfamiliar and uncomfortable but quite honestly, we are freaking terrified of failing and truth be told, some of us are just lazy.

We often settle because greatness takes hard work and discipline; it takes coming out of our comfort zones and defying our habitual nature; it requires often being ridiculed for trying to break the mold, it means defying the odds stacked against us, it means being uncomfortable and pushing past the urge to revert to previous behaviours; and it means often having to fight with that devil on our shoulder that tells us to quit and stay the same. Being more requires a level of sacrifice that seems daunting compared to the reward we hope to gain. Not striving for more is the easy way out, in fact, it’s a cop out too many of us opt for. It’s the safe option that results in minimal losses but also minimal gains.

But at what point do we dare for more? At what point do we push past our own limited expectations and the expectations of others to fulfil our God-given potential? When do we stop being lazy and do the necessary introspection and subsequent labour to be where we have the capability to be?

When does the cycle of absentee fathers end and men strive to be good fathers even though they didn’t know theirs? When do women stop logging on to sugardaddies.com and strive to be women of virtue? When do we stop bleaching our skin to try to fit in with the Jones’? When do we choose to go back to school to obtain CXC subjects and move on to higher education instead of digging out our hand middles on the corner? When do we choose to work hours of overtime to excel in a position instead of sitting at the people’s job idling on DearDream?

When do we defy the “man a gyalis” mentality and be satisfied with being a one-burner? When do we stop settling for half-assed efforts and half-dead relationships? When do we stop being just walking penises and vaginas and strive for actual meaningful relationships? When will our relationships stop being simply about pu**y and money? When do we feel the fear of falling in love and chuck out of the plane without a parachute because it may end up being the best god-damn relationship of our lives? (Follow up post on this separate kettle of fish later on)

It might be seem like I’m draping up and dragging with this post and I am but please believe that I gave myself a massive drape up and a hard stare in the mirror while writing this. When I first heard Marianne Williamson’s poem, “Our Greatest Fear”, I cried because it resonated with me so much. I realized I wasn’t frightened of being too little but of the magnitude of my potential and if I’d be able to realize it. Persons who are closest to me will tell you that I am such a paradox because I struggle with fear and anxiety even as a Counselling Psychologist. But when I heard that poem I realized how much I feared failing in spite of the great chance of the polar opposite. So in order to dodge the possibility of failure I often settled for mediocrity by avoiding taking certain risks because I didn’t want to fall flat on my face. Other times I will admit that my heart is willing but I’m lazy and choose my bed instead of waking up to be awesome 😉 Nevertheless I digress…

So my friends, here’s the deal; today let’s choose to be greater than the limited expectations and labels we’ve settled for. Let’s take the leap and just do it like Nikey: free falling and learning to fly toward our destinies. Let’s decide to push past our fears, anxieties, insecurities, comforts and risk what we may lose for the reward that we’ll gain.

Stop selling yourself short; do more, have more and be more.

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Face to face with mental health

Mental health. Here we go again, right? Some persons have perhaps stopped reading after the first two words. Or perhaps some will take the time to read in light of the recent passing of entertainer Delus. Whatever the reason is, I urge you to pay attention to this very important facet of our lives.

Mental health: It’s those two seemingly taboo words that loom like the pink elephant in the room. Once again, let me highlight that mental health and mental illness are not synonymous, similar to how health and sickness are not. Mental health is described as the ‘psychological state of someone who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioural adjustment’. There is a spectrum that spans from optimal mental health to mental illness, and you and I sit somewhere along that line and at any given moment, life’s circumstances can move forward or backward.

We tend to think of mental health/illness as ‘those people over there’ and look at them with pity, fear or disregard. You see, in our eyes, mental illness only affects a small portion of our population and the rest of us are fine and dandy skipping through the meadows.

 

HEALTH AND STABILITY

 

We would much rather focus on ‘bigger issues’ such as human rights, child abuse, the failing economy, gender equality, and crime and violence. These are all issues of importance and all need to be addressed to secure the prosperous future of our country. However, I argue that without incorporating the notion of good mental health, many of these issues will not be achieved, or at the very least, not achieved to full potential.

We all have a mental and emotional component of our being, which cannot be taken away from us, and further, cannot be subtracted from our personal development or national growth. How can we achieve Vision 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals without a populace that is healthy and stable? This concept of mental health and its many aspects – emotional intelligence, coping skills, empathy, anger management, stress management – have too often been omitted from the bigger picture.

Human rights are for all, including those living with mental illness. Many marginalised groups are fighting the battle for equality and fairness, but persons living with mental illness are more often than not still left stigmatised and discriminated against. Employers often terminate employees once a diagnosis of mental illness has been discovered, which adds to the unemployment rate and cripples economic growth.

There have been many child abuse-prevention activities over the past couple of months. We have marched, participated in public forums, watched videos and documentaries and heard artistes sing about it. This is a big issue that has gone on for decades, and I am glad we are now targeting it on a national level. However, I very rarely hear of the mental and psychosocial support that are given to the victims, their families and yes, dare I say it, the perpetrators. Though the wounds may heal and the scars may fade, the victim and their families were also psychologically traumatised and need to heal in order to continue a wholesome life. How can we pay greater attention to this?

 

MANY ISSUES

 

More programmes have come on stream to place at-risk youth into skill training and employment. However, many of these youth have emotional/mental issues that made them at risk in the first place; many have witnessed and lost loved ones to violence, have abandonment issues, and have been neglected/abused. Isn’t placing them in programmes without giving them the requisite counselling services the same as putting a Band-Aid on only half the cut?

The failing economy has been stressful for most of us to manage. The rising prices of flour, chicken, bread, sugar … oxygen! Everything is going up, along with our blood pressure and stress level, and research has proven over and over again that chronic, high levels of sustained stress have grave physical and psychological effects.

The World Health Organization and the World Bank recently convened a meeting of global minds to discuss world issues, including mental health. Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, stated that the global economy loses US$1 trillion every year in productivity because of mental illness.

Another presenter highlighted that investing US$1 million in treating anxiety and depression will yield a US$4-million return in better health and ability to work.

It is imperative that as we move towards Jamaica’s Vision 2030, more emphasis be placed on mental-health awareness and treatment. Investing in the mental health of our human resources is paramount in achieving sustainable development goals.

From the other side of the windscreen

There have been recent discussions about banning the windscreen wipers from the streets or whether to regulate their activity. Many persons argue that these men are more of a nuisance than anything else, disrespecting innocent drivers and oftentimes being violent. Though I don’t doubt that this is true, I beg to offer a view from the other side of the windscreen.

Having worked in inner-city community development for the past 7 years I have met a wide cross-section of youth to adults with different stories. I have seen a few young men decide to venture into a life of crime; young girls get pregnant at 14 as well as witness young people be the first in their families to graduate from university and young entrepreneurs start their own businesses. It often tricky to determine the factors that determine whether or not social intervention programs cause the success of its participants, but having seeing firsthand more positive results than negative I would shudder to think what would happen if they did not exist.

Last summer, I was driving hastily down a major thoroughfare to try to catch the light. As I sped down the road, I noticed a familiar face standing on the road with a wiper in his hand. It was too late to turn around and in fact, I was late to my destination and had other passengers in the car. I quickly called someone I used to work with to inquire the last time she had spoken with Sheldon was. As it turns out she reported that she had last seen him wiping windows at the same intersection. Rewind a few years back when I had met Sheldon at a summer camp. He had won the hearts of his fellow campers as he was a sportsman and a Mr. Bogle in the making. As soon as music played through the speakers the other campers would call on him to perform and to top it all of he was well-mannered and lovable. One day while down at the football field, I noticed fresh bruises on Sheldon’s back. He told me that his mother had beaten him the night before with a stick. He regrettably reported that this type of beating was a regular occurrence. I told him that I was mandated to report the incident to the authorities. He didn’t think anything would come out of it as he thought no one cared about the people from his community. Report was made and the authorities began their investigation, unfortunately he was not removed from the home. Sheldon was from the community of Majestic Gardens and he and his sister as well as their peers were often sent on the streets by their mothers to help offset the household bills (This particular summer camp was aimed at mitigating child labour). Sheldon was later kicked out of the house by his mother and was sent to live with an uncle, a year after that he was living under a bus shed for a few months before another family member took him in. In our position, we were unable to directly secure a housing solution for him. Sheldon refused to go onto the streets to beg/work and insisted on going to school despite his situation. Thus my surprise when I drove past him years later. Now legally an adult, Sheldon often ventures onto the street to hustle as he now lives alone and abuse-free in a government home in his community. Window wiping was a last resort for him and he is currently trying to organize his TRN etc in order to go back to school.

I then reflect on Andrew, who I often pass on the street wiping windscreens at the Portia Simpson Miller Square. He was another of our summer camp participants who came from unfortunate circumstances. The difference between Andrew and Sheldon is that Andrew never had the desire to be in school even from a young age. According to him school wasn’t going to do anything for him, he quickly wanted to “go mek some money”. He failed to see the connection between schooling and money-making despite our efforts. The first encounter we had years after the summer camp had ended was after I saw him getting into an argument with a fellow wiper. I was nearby and called out to him, I pulled over and we chatted a while. Turns out that Andrew dropped out of school and came out on the streets to hustle. He reiterated the same sentiment from years before about school not making any sense for him and reported that he preferred to hustle than go back to school.

Lastly, I think about Kevin who I have not seen since that fateful summer. Kevin, wherever he is, is surviving; of this I am confident. Kevin’s mother had also sent him on the streets to hustle as he was the eldest child and had to fend for his younger siblings. The summer camp was quite an inconvenience for Kevin as he saw it as interfering with his hustle. Nevertheless he was present and actually enjoyed himself. The first Friday however, he was missing from camp, when he returned the next week he reported that Friday is his most profitable day and he could not afford to miss it. Another day shortly after camp had ended I passed him by Megamart. I was confused as this was well out of his way. Upon asking, he said “Aunti, down my side too congested with too much people, hard fi hustle with so much competition”; a businessman in the making as at a young age he was able to identify his best business days and find an underserved location.

I know that none of this changes the fact that many of these windscreen wipers are aggressive and violent. I also know that this may not evoke any sympathy for those of us who have been cursed out and have had our property damaged by them. However, what I must underscore is the need for sustained social intervention programs in order to possibly put a dent in cycle of some of these social ills. Social interventions especially in inner-city and rural areas in paramount to national development and cannot happen ad-hoc or for the short-term. . The arms of non-profit organizations are short because the multitude is growing and the 5 loves and 2 fish are running out. Unfortunately international donor funds are the main staple for many non-profit organizations and the competition is stiff as there are many non-profit companies vying for international funds which are drying up because of our classification as a middle income country. Non-profit organizations now need to find innovative ways to keep on their lights and continue to serve vulnerable communities. This is where the government needs to step their game up if they are serious about national development. If Jamaica is to be the place to live, work and do business then we need to pay keen attention to our most valuable resources; our citizens.

I also hope that by telling a part of the stories of these 3 young men that we can see and understand that everyone has a story, some more gory than others, and if “fairy godmothers” are not interjected those persons can become villains wreaking havoc on us the readers. If their stories aren’t told they will be seen as villains and nothing more instead of the victims that many of them are. I know many will say, I grew up poor and never turned out like that etc etc; I would then implore you to find a way to pour into the life/lives of those young people and see if some kind of impact can be made

Everyone has a story; let’s bear that in mind when we interact with each other. More importantly, let us endeavor to help one another when we can in order to build a better Jamaica for the next Sheldon, Andrew and Kevin.

Mental Health First Aid

Imagine your 5 year old self falling down and getting a cut; you’re bleeding and in pain. You run to your parents frightened and in need of comfort. A harsh “Stop the crying, you’ll be ok man cho” is what you are met with. Stunned at the abrasive response, you quickly dry up your tears as a band-aid is roughly placed on the cut.

Imagine that you are walking along the street and trip and fall (you’re a clumsy one aren’t you). You break your arm, the bone is sticking out, blood is spurting; it’s quite a mess. You run to the nearest person for help, obviously in pain. Some walk by, others run away in fright, finally someone stops, take a quick look and says “You arite man stop gwaan suh, is just a likkle break”. “Just a little break, don’t you see my bone sticking out?!” you scream. Finally you get some help at the local hospital. Because you waited so long for the arm to be attended to, you developed an infection and the arm had to be amputated. Imagine if you had gotten the proper first aid that you needed before reaching to the hospital, you would still have your arm.

Now imagine that you have been diagnosed with cancer. You head home to your family and friends to deliver the news and develop an action plan. You sit everyone down in the living room with tear-filled eyes and tell them the diagnosis. Silence and blank stares glare at you. They’re in shock, I’ll give them a minute, you think to yourself. Suddenly you hear someone hiss their teeth; “Cancer, ah dat you a waste wi time bout?! Snap out of it man, easy thing to fix, why all the drama?!”

Proper crisis response and first-aid can mean a world of difference in a crucial situation.

The scenarios described above may seem dramatic and unlikely but they do happen in actuality. One sphere where this occurs more frequently is in the area of mental and emotional health. Our peers experience something traumatic; loss of a loved one, sexual/physical abuse, loss of employment, violence or heartache and we tell them to “snap out of it”. We often see people displaying warning signs; change in mood/behavior, saying irrational things, displaying violent behavior; and we turn a blind eye and walk past their broken, blood-gushing arm.

The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day is “Dignity in Mental Health – Psychological first aid”. This theme centers around basic pragmatic psychological support by people who find themselves in a helping role whether they be health staff, teachers, firemen, community workers, or police officers or regular Joe.

Mental and emotional health is a part of our entire being and as such we can experience issues/challenges in its functioning. So in the same way that I would need quick response in the case of a physical injury is the same way I would need quick response in the case of a mental/emotional challenge.

Anyone of us at any given time can be in need of psychological first-aid given life’s circumstances. Likewise any one of use can be in a position to render Psychological First-Aid to one of our peers. First in order for that to be done, we must do away with the stigma associated with mental and emotional health. Then we must outfit ourselves with the basic skills necessary to be a first-responder to those experiencing mental/emotional/behavioural challenges. It is my firm belief that anyone who has a job which involves much interpersonal interaction should have a basic knowledge of the signs of psychological ill-health so that they can respond appropriately. Now I do not mean that a customer service representative must counsel customers who seem to be taking out their anger on them. At the very least we should be able to identify these issues and choose not to respond “Nttn nuh wrong wid u, stop trying to get attention”.  That kind of response can cause someone to shirk back into their hole of isolation reluctant to seek help again; we should offer a kind, comforting word instead.

Cancer, diabetes and other chronic illnesses are diseases which affect persons and their families and so does mental illness. It’s time that we stop locking people away and speaking shamefully in hushed tones about these issues. Persons living with and affected by mental illness did not choose their lot in life and are not to blame or be put to shame. They cannot exorcise it away, dip in healing waters or simply wish to feel better.  Mental illness is wide and varied and is not only confined to manifestations that end up in murder or suicide. There are persons with biochemical illnesses such as Schizophrenia or Bipolar Depression, persons who struggle with grief such as death of loved one, persons who endure post-traumatic stress disorder such as sexual abuse or the Tivoli incursion and unfortunately the list goes on.

Let us do more for each other, let’s be our brother’s keeper. Let us aim for dignity in mental health as we strive for our overall health as individuals and as a nation.

 

The Jamaica Mental Health Advocacy Network (JaMHAN)

The Jamaica Mental Health Advocacy Network is a group of young professionals involved in the fields of Mental Health, Social Work, Community Development and Advocacy.

JaMHAN is a nationally representative network that has a sustained and transformative impact on the provision of, access to and awareness of mental health services in Jamaica.

Vision

JaMHAN envisions improved lives for people with mental illnesses living in Jamaica.

Mission

JaMHAN is dedicated to addressing the full spectrum of mental illness and their effects nationwide, promoting mental health, preventing mental illness and providing quality care for mental illnesses through advocacy, education, research and service through a committed network of practitioners and stakeholders.

Objectives
JaMHAN seeks to:
Increase national awareness of mental health illness while reducing the stigma associated with mental health as well as to increase the capacity of stakeholders to deal with persons facing mental health challenges.

Lobby for the proper treatment and increased services offered to persons with mental health illness.

Promote acceptance of mental health problems by encouraging, educating and inspiring persons to talk openly about mental health problems.

Promote overall wellness and mental stability

What have we done?
JaMHAN has partnered with various organizations and has been involved in the following:
Fulbright-Humphrey Speaker Series – Mental Health: Everyone’s Business

World Mental Health Day Symposium 2013 – Mental Health in Older Adults 

World Mental Health Day Symposium 2015 – Dignity in Mental Health 

Schizophrenia – Not the ending of the story – https://youtu.be/K5HNWADTB_w

Let’s talk about Mental Health – https://youtu.be/BTZbV_MgMmw

Contact Information
jamhan2012@gmail.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jamentalhealth
Twitter: @jamhan_ja

Who is Jhanille A. Brooks?

 

I am a Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counselor with over five years experience in the field. A mental health advocate and lobbyist, I am passionate about building awareness on the importance of being mentally healthy and, am keen to see greater improvement in the treatment, care and support for the mentally ill.

I was awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to pursue Masters level studies in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling at the University of South Florida where I also obtained a Certificate in Rehabilitation Counseling.

My professional experience spans work in the areas of clinical therapy; counseling, behavior change; mental health; project management; substance misuse prevention and rehabilitation; homelessness; community development; HIV/AIDS; as well as working with at-risk groups including youths.

I work extensively with at-risk youth and youth in conflict with the law. I have managed and coordinated various social intervention projects using creative psychoeducational modes to connect and interact with community members.

I am passionate about working to promote positive behavior change in persons and give of myself outside of work hours to several initiatives and groups including the Jamaica Fulbright Alumni Association, Back2Life Rio Cobre Project, Mensana Mental Health Support Group and the Jamaica Mental Health Advocacy Network for which I am Chairperson.

Given all this, I still find time to cater to my own mental health (as well as my stomach) as I am an avid foodie, love all types of music and have no qualms about singing aloud much to the dismay of friends and innocent bystanders, dancer, am always willing to try new things and I stay grounded in my Christian belief system.

 

 

 

Mental Health Now: Time for a paradigm shift

On Wednesday April 20, another young Jamaican man of promise, Odane Bennett, lost his life full of promises and potential to the gun. A 23 year old who was robbed of the chance to make meaningful contribution to this world. There are several issues that come to light in Odane’s demise. Why his family chose to baptize him instead of taking him to Bellevue as advised, why didn’t the baptizers see that the demon needed to be exorcised with medication and how a sleeping policeman allowed his high power weapon to be taken from him?

What was most disheartening to me was the seemingly callous responses from members of the general public. The words “mad” and “crazy” swirled around social media while people failed to acknowledge that his life was taken from him unfairly. His life could not be spared as it seemed to pose a threat to the lives of other “normal” people. What is apparent is the widespread misconception that ALL persons living with mental illness are violent and dangerous. We see the way they are portrayed in the media and the phrase “mental illness” is automatically synonymous with “di mad man”. Professor Hickling and other astute members of the field have given statistics and data on the small percentage of the mentally ill who are actually violent. But yet again, like many other issues in Jamaica, we focus on the wrong thing and major in the minor. We look at the most extreme cases and generalize misconceptions on thousands of people. As a mental health practitioner, I know first hand of the potential dangers of when a person experiences a psychotic break. However, I cannot fathom how several shots was an adequate solution to this unfortunate situation when a disabling shot to the leg or arm would have been enough to de-escalate the situation. I understand that people’s lives where potentially in danger but aren’t police trained on how to shoot without killing? The lives of ALL Jamaicans are equal in value including those living with mental illness.

The World Health Organization and the World Bank recently convened a meeting of global minds to discuss world issues including mental health. Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, stated that the global economy loses $1 trillion every year in productivity due to mental illness. Another presenter highlighted that investing $1 million Usd in treating anxiety and depression will yield $4 million Usd return in better health and ability to work. It is imperative that as we move towards Jamaica’s Vision 2030 let’s place more emphasis on mental health awareness & treatment. Investing in the mental health of our human resources is paramount in achieving sustainable development goals. Implementing a comprehensive mental health care system that facilitates prevention, early identification, crisis response, treatment, medication, rehabilitation and public education is of utmost importance and it’s time we jump on the global bandwagon.

R.I.P Odane