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Mental Illness in Jamaica

by Deon Clarke | Associate Writer

It is often said that there is a thin line between sanity and insanity. Whenever I go out on the streets, I see many persons daily struggles with some form of mental illness. I bet everyone has at least one person in their family who suffers from mental illness. It’s not an easy thing to handle. For some persons, it may be hereditary, while for others it is triggered by a traumatic event.

Whatever the case may be, it exists and persons should be more aware and sympathetic to individuals who are affected by these illnesses as long as it does not put their life or health in jeopardy. Be mindful of the fact that some of these persons are of unsound mind and might have violent tendencies.

Some persons refuse to get the help they need due to the stigma associated with anyone finding out they are seeing a psychiatrist or a psychologist. However, if you can direct someone to where help is available or if you are in a position to identify the signs when they start appearing, this could go a long way in preserving the life and quality of life for that individual. Let’s answer few questions to get a better understanding of this touchy issue.

What is Mental Illness?

Mental illness can be described as a general term that is used for a group of illnesses that may have an impact on a person's feelings, thoughts, perceptions, and behaviours.

What are the Most Common Types of Mental Illness?

  1. Anxiety Disorders – claustrophobia, panic disorders, OCD, PSTD

  2. Behavioural and emotional Disorders in Children – Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Conduct Disorder (CD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

  3. Bipolar Affective Disorder – mood disorder (manic depression)

  4. Depression – mood disorder – low mood, sad, loss of interest and enjoyment, reduced energy

  5. Schizophrenia – disruption to thinking and emotions, distorted perception of reality such as hallucinations, delusions

  6. Eating Disorders – anorexia, bulimia nervosa

  7. Disassociation and Dissociative Disorders – disconnecting from sense of identity, thoughts, feelings, memories

  8. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – Intrusive and unwanted recurrent thoughts, impulses, and images

  9. Paranoia – persistent and irrational feeling that someone is “out to get you”

  10. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD) – developed as a response due to experiencing a traumatic event

  11. Psychosis – confused thinking, delusions, hallucinations

How Common is Mental Illness in Jamaica?

According to the 2017 Global Burden of Disease database, the data revealed that depression and anxiety disorders were among the most common mental health concerns faced by the Jamaican population. Approximately 3% of Jamaicans have a depressive disorder and about 4.1% have an anxiety disorder.

However, according to a published research by Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of the West Indies, Professor Frederick Hickling, found in a 2011 study that 40% of the Jamaican population suffered from a type of mental illness. This was corroborated by Gary Hemmings, President of the Psychiatric Nursing Aide Association of Jamaica, who states that the figure also increases if you take into consideration that there are a lot more persons who are suffering from stress disorders, psychosis, brain and psychotic disorders, depression, and other mental illnesses, who cannot even identify that they are experiencing these symptoms because they don't know what they have.

What are 10 Signs of Mental Illness?

The below are some signs that you could look out for regarding mental illness in persons. You should note that you must always seek the advice of a professional so don’t go around diagnosing and self-diagnosing. Just be vigilant.

  1. Change in feelings or demeanour
  2. Loss of interest in usual activities
  3. Change in sleeping habits or problems sleeping, significant tiredness,
  4. Low energy
  5. Difficulty interacting
  6. Appetite or weight changes
  7. Uncontrollable emotions
  8. Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
  9. Withdrawal from friends and activities
  10. Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate

How Can I get Help with Mental Illness In Jamaica?

Mental health illness can be treated in several ways including; medication, psychotherapy, support groups, hospitalization, complementary and alternative medicine, and peer support. No one treatment works for everyone, so each person would have to find which one or combination works best for them.

In Jamaica, you will find that most drugs for the treatment of mental disorders are available free of cost or at subsidized rates. However, to access the free medication, you must be registered with the National Health Fund. You should have your psychiatrist or family doctor complete the relevant form so you can access the benefit.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness in Jamaica has a Mental Health Unit that is responsible for developing policies and plans to address the promotion of mental health, the prevention of mental disorders, and to develop a series of services geared towards early detection, treatment and the rehabilitation of affected persons. They can be contacted at: 876-633-8172 or 876-633-7771.

The Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Helpline – 888 NEW LIFE (639-5433) is an alternative for those who seek help with their mental health concerns. Persons are also encouraged to share their experiences on the Ministry of Health’s Mental Health website as “every story of mental illness, whether of struggle or triumph, is one more that can inspire”.

Mental Health During Covid-19 in Jamaica

With the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, mental health concerns have increased across the island since the beginning of the world crisis in February 2020. The calls significantly increased in August 2021 with the implementation of weekday lockdowns to flatten the curve of the third wave of the Coronavirus. There is a silver lining to this grey cloud, however, as individuals calling the helpline for assistance through this ordeal is a sign that the stigma around mental health is slowly lessening and some people are now open to receiving help with their mental health issues in Jamaica. This is a step in the right direction.

Mental health is everybody’s business. You never know when it could be your turn or that of your loved ones. Help someone today if you can.

I also recommend you read Cancer in Jamaica, Raising Awareness.



  • “Mental Health Unit”, Ministry of Health and Wellness,
  • "Care for Mental Health Conditions in Jamaica”, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO),
  • “Yes! Mental health services are available in Jamaica” Gleaner Jamaica,
  • “The Stigma of Mental Illness in Jamaica”, Special Learning,
  • “7 Signs of a Mental Health Condition”, Think Health,
  • “Mental Health Treatments”, Mental Health America,

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