Thu | Dec 7, 2023

Going beyond the mental health taboo

Published:Friday | July 9, 2021 | 12:08 AMCecelia Campbell-Livingston/Gleaner Writer
Malaika Sinclair-Bailey, principal, Rose Mount Primary and Infant School, St Catherine, urges parents to look out for signs of mental illness.
Malaika Sinclair-Bailey, principal, Rose Mount Primary and Infant School, St Catherine, urges parents to look out for signs of mental illness.

For a lot of Jamaican families, the issue of mental health is still taboo, more so in light of the fact that some members are super bright and do not reflect any of the symptoms that are associated with it.

Malaika Sinclair Bailey, principal of Rosemont Primary and Infant school in Linstead, St Catherine, shared with The Gleaner that although persons tend to shy away from the topic of mental health, it’s a present reality.

Highlighting a personal encounter, she said the individual had deep mental issues, but no one would guess because he had a straight ‘A’ profile.

“Whenever he takes the academic courses, you are expecting straight A’s, he is multifaceted. You talking about a person who writes music well, a person who writes songs well, a person who farms, sews, a person who has touched a number of areas and you would say this person is a jack of many trades and a master of them,” Bailey highlighted.

Stating that it is hard in those circumstances to guess that something is off, Bailey noted that to close family members, there will be ‘giveaway’ symptoms that can trigger a warning.

Among those triggers are sleeplessness, hallucinations, persons complaining about hearing voices, blurting out in their sleep and making crazy sounds.

However, once that person who is suffering from mental health is in front of you, they will perform well and show no sign of having illness of any kind.

Referring to the person she was highlighting, Bailey said he went to university and when he wrote an essay his professor had to ask the question if he really was the author as it was excellent work.


“However, he did not finish university but moved on to another educational facility, also did one more year straight A’s again, then moved on again,” Bailey revealed, as she points out that although there is no research to validate her suspicion, she thinks that kind of behaviour is another symptom of mental illness – not being able to finish projects started.

“It’s a very frequent trend among persons who are struggling with whatever diagnosed issue of mental health issue. But this individual, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar. He starts a number of major tasks but never completes and his sickness would get much worse whenever he is under pressure of have stressors,” Bailey shared.

It is with knowledge that Bailey is warning not just parents, but teachers as well to be careful on how a child is assessed or dealt with as there is no one way of diagnosing mental illness.

“We cannot diagnose persons unless some physical display of mental health might come out. It also helps for the school to be sensitised by the parents,” she shared.

And if it is a case where counsellors at the school catch the problem, then she said they should sensitise the parents.

For Bailey, mental health issues has heightened now as the COVID-19 pandemic has added to the stressors for teachers, students and parents.

“I have taught for over 20 years and have had colleagues who are going under severe stress and mental issues coming to the fore. It’s very, very critical at this time, and I encourage all stakeholders to get on board quickly because there are many persons, teachers in particular, who are under great stress, there are parents who are breaking under the pressure, not to mention the children who are saying ‘Miss I can’t do this’,” she points out.

She said online, additional responsibilities and other duties are causing students to be stressed out and pushing their mental stability.

As the country navigates its way through the pandemic, Bailey said her passion is looking out for others.

“When was the last time you saw someone who needs dinner, gave an encouraging word, don’t assume that because someone has status in society they don’t break down and cry. I’m encouraging all of us to start giving an eye on our neighbours, don’t let anyone have to ask for help, but reach out.”