Sat | Sep 23, 2023

Holness urged to screen churches for mental health intervention

Published:Friday | January 6, 2023 | 1:38 AMSashana Small/Staff Reporter
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (second right) joins in prayer while holding hands with (from left) bishop of Power of Faith Ministries International, Dr Delford Davis; Opposition Leader Mark Golding; and St James Custos Conrad Pitkin during the Heal the Fam
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (second right) joins in prayer while holding hands with (from left) bishop of Power of Faith Ministries International, Dr Delford Davis; Opposition Leader Mark Golding; and St James Custos Conrad Pitkin during the Heal the Family, Heal the Nation conference at the National Arena in Kingston on Wednesday.

A psychologist and a member of the clergy are hailing Prime Minister Andrew Holness’s intention to collaborate with the Church to address mental health issues in the country as a positive initiative. But both are cautioning the Government to ensure...

A psychologist and a member of the clergy are hailing Prime Minister Andrew Holness’s intention to collaborate with the Church to address mental health issues in the country as a positive initiative. But both are cautioning the Government to ensure that churches recruited for this initiative are properly vetted.

“We would also want to make sure that he is not just teaming up with any religious group or denomination. It must be that he is planning to team up with the professional mental health service providers within the organisation,” child psychologist and family therapist Dr Orlean Brown-Earle told The Gleaner on Thursday.

It is a sentiment shared by Father Sean Major-Campbell, who warned of the “negative elements which have the social status but no available tools to assist serious mental health concerns”.

Major-Campbell, who holds a postgraduate degree in pastoral psychology and counselling, is especially concerned about those churches that have a warped interpretation of how mental health issues should be handled.

“What are the child protection guarantees in place? Is there a risk of spiritual abuse? We must beware of those whose approach is getting the client to fall on the ground, speak in tongues and get baptism. Worse are those who do rituals seeking to beat out some demon from the mentally challenged or someone perceived to be possessed,” he cautioned.

Insisting that governments have to pay attention to the mental health of their populations, Holness on Wednesday acknowledged that this sometimes falls outside of the realm of administration.

“Sometimes it is not the domain of government to try and spark social and cultural revolution in morality,” he said while speaking at the Heal the Family, Heal the Nation conference at the National Arena.

Dubbing the initiative “heartware intervention”, the prime minister said it will involve a public education campaign as well as intervention programmes from churches islandwide.

“It is not something that the Government can do by itself. It is something that has to be done in conjunction with the Church and civil society. It’s a whole-of-nation approach to ensuring our mental health, the moral standards of the society as well as the cultural practices of the society to make them in keeping to be what we would consider to be pro-growth, pro-social, meaning we respect everyone in the society,” he said.

But Brown-Earle, who is also a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, said the denomination has numerous programmes that focus on mental health, but could benefit from increased resources from the Government.

“A lot of what the Seventh-day Adventist Church does, we have paid counsellors on staff who do community counselling. Is it that he is going to give us additional resources so we can impact a larger group of the community?” she asked.

“It would help if resources are available; it cannot be just talk,” she said, adding that these additional resources could include infrastructure for counselling services, community support programmes, outreach support, remuneration for staff, and proper documentation.

“We have wonderful ideas, but we don’t have a coordinated approach,” she further said.

While sharing that more people are seeking help for their mental health, Brown-Earle said that focus should also be placed on conflict resolution skills.

“This is one of the skills that we need to invest in, teaching from the kindergarten all the way up to the community level,” the child psychologist and family therapist told The Gleaner.

Meanwhile, Major-Campbell said it would be a good move to enlist the Church to tackle mental health, and that it was not solely the job of psychologists.

“Psychologists and Church have a role to play in the healing of families, individuals and the nation. Our Jamaican society requires working together. For the person of religious faith, there are resources from their religious tradition which may be included in their journey of healing,” he said.

“We must, however, be wary of magical thinking that suggests that fasting and prayer will take care of everything. God empowers the effective therapist with the ministry of healing,” he added.

sashana.small@gleanerjm.com