March Madness- using mental illness to sell glasses


One quarter of the world’s population suffers from mental illness. This is true for Canada, the U.S., and Jamaica.

In general, the supply of mental health services around the world has not kept pace with demand for treatment, especially in comparison to the attention paid to physical disorders. There are many reasons for this, the main one being the stigma that remains for people suffering from mental disorders. It is still considered something to be ashamed of in most cultures. In fact, it is still acceptable to find humour in someone suffering from a mental disorder.

Take this advertisement that ran in Jamaica’s Gleaner yesterday. An attractive woman appears bound by a sanitized version of a straightjacket. I think the audience is to infer that she is locked up in the mental asylum, to put it crudely. “Good reason to lose your mind. It’s March Madness!” reads the copy above the picture.

As someone who has nearly lost a loved one to mental illness several times, I do not take this lightly. Would the advertising company executives have approved a picture of a woman suffering from a physical disease to sell a good deal for eyewear?

Had they known these facts, maybe they would also reconsider:

There are roughly 500,000 people in Jamaica suffering from mental illness.

The number of patients on the books of the community services has increased from 7,779 in 1995 to 10,907 in 2000.

(From this report by Dr. Kwame McKenzie:) There are a limited number of residential facilities. Most of the funding is currently being channelled to the mental hospital.

There is a dearth of local quantitative and qualitative researches on mental health issues

Shortages of staff such as psychologists, occupational therapists, social workers with mental health training, mental health officers including those with child & adolescent training.

Mental Health data collection system. The PAHO had sponsored the purchase of a software to improve the system, however there is an urgent need for approximately ten (10) data entry clerks to be contracted for six (6) months to input the more than 11,000 patients data on the software at a cost of US$10,000. A request was made to PAHO but it was not supported. Efforts to identify funding from other sources have not been successful to date. Hence the reports from the officers in the regions continue to be late and inaccurate.

Inadequate number of ambulance type vehicles for the Psychiatric Emergency, Crisis, Assertive Outreach Home Visit Teams.

Clearly, there is a lot of work to be done in terms of how people with mental illness are treated here in Jamaica, and worldwide. A first step could be to re-think the language we use and what we accept from others, including advertisers, as permissible.

The Government is working on the Mental Health Act, which was last amended in 1999, to reflect increasing demand for adequate services. However, the country is in contravention of international law when it comes to the provision of services.

In Jamaica, and worldwide, it is a work in progress, how we treat those suffering from mental illness. The heavy lifting is being done by governments and civil society, however, we can incorporate it into our daily lives. For example, do not use the words “insane” or “schizophrenic” to describe something outrageous. And do not accept the use of someone suffering from mental illness to sell products.

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