‘Society in distress’
Health ministry launches new initiative to target mental issues
Pointing to the many manifestations of deviant behaviour in the country, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has declared Jamaica a “society in distress” that his ministry’s latest initiative, Problem Management Plus (PM+), aims to tackle.
The programme, which is designed in collaboration with the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), is a problem-solving approach to assist people to manage everyday challenges. The initiative trains leaders attached to community organisations, who then train PM+ providers and give guidance and support while they assist people to address stress, anxiety, and mild depression resulting from exposure to various adversities.
Speaking at the launch of the programme on Tuesday, Tufton said that this kind of initiative is timely.
“Despite our pride in Jamaica and our sense of who we are and our accomplishments, we are a society in distress in many ways, and we can’t put our heads in the sand and ignore it. We can’t just talk about the achievements and ignore what, in my mind, is becoming more and more a mainstream feature of our society. We have to access, we have to recalibrate, and we have to respond,” he said.
Using statistics, Tufton made note of what he described as a “worrying trend” and a side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2021, there were 34 suicide cases recorded, compared to 64 in 2022. For January alone this year, there were 14 cases recorded.
Tufton stated that there has also been a corresponding increase in the number of people reaching out to the ministry’s Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Helpline – 888-NEW-LIFE.
“Last year, the helpline received 2,190 calls, an increase of 542 when compared to 1,648 the year before. Of note, the ‘suicidal’ call category recorded 236 calls handled – a significant increase when compared to the 131 calls reported for the same call category in 2021,” he said.
Additionally, he said that the category of ‘schizophrenia’ recorded 183 calls in 2022, when compared to five calls in 2021. And last year, there were 162 emotional distress calls received, 161 calls related to depression, and 112 to intimate relationships.
“We are experiencing an unusual level of distress that we have to respond to and treat as much of a crisis as we had to do with COVID,” he stressed.
Tufton said that the response will require more than the limited number of psychiatrists and psychologists available, and charged that all citizens have a critical role in addressing what he describes as the “normalisation of distress”.
So far, six master PM+ trainers have been trained by PAHO and the Loma Linda University. They have trained more than 34 PM+ supervisors, who have, in turn, trained 85 PM+ providers. The providers are located in 12 parishes, with Trelawny and St Thomas set to get on board shortly.
Tufton was also quick to clarify that he is not blaming the Government for the mental state of the country.
“I know it’s unusual for a government minister to say we are a society in distress, and I’m not here casting blame on anyone or even making a commentary on why we are a society in distress should be linked to how the Government performs or, indeed, how our Opposition performs … . I’m saying we’re a society in distress which needs recognition of that and a response to that,” he said.
He said the ministry has been implementing numerous programmes to address mental health issues, including the School Mental Health Literacy Programme, which was launched last October. He said that some 500 school professionals have since been trained in mental health literacy.
Additionally, he lauded the U-Matter Mental Health Chat Line launched in March last year, which provides a free and anonymous service to youth between the ages of 16 and 24. Up to November last year, there were some 1,343 contact sessions through this initiative.
“If we take that approach through the PM+ programme, we will create a gentler society and we will neutralise or minimise that distress,” he said.