Categorized | Editorials, National News


The desecration of Saint Cecilia’s Catholic Church in Coconut Grove  has sent shock waves throughout  the Bahamas.  Whoever is responsible for this dastardly act, in our opinion,  is either possessed with legions of demons or is extremely mentally ill.  There is another opinion held, which is that the level of deviance in the country among young men is  very high. 

As a nation, we have not done a good job in dealing with the level of mental illness which is plaguing the land.  In many areas of the society we see on an ongoing basis young people who are obviously mentally ill, traversing the land scantily clad, sometimes  almost in a state of  nakedness.  This malady goes unattended by the State and often with the knowledge of relatives who do not see to it that their ill loved-ones receive medical attention.  This is an indictment on the entire society and it often results in social problems.

The mental disorders that cause severe social problems are the most extreme forms of mental illness. Of these, the most sensational are those that threaten the social order itself, such as the derangement that causes a person to become a mass murderer or episodes of  “mass psychosis”  like the case of the People’s Temple, in which an entire community committed suicide. The number of individuals with such disorders may be small, but they constitute an especially serious social problem because they are so violent and irrational. 

Less threatening of public safety and perceptions of security, but far more widespread as a social problem, are severely ill individuals (often diagnosed as psychotic) who cannot care for themselves without specialized attention. For the mentally ill as individuals, their problem is a terrible affliction. They experience such symptoms as unimaginable fear, uncontrollable hallucinations, panic, crushing feelings of sadness, wild elation, and roller-coaster mood swings. For society as a whole, their illness presents a range of social problems: Stress in family life, demands on health-care institutions, moral and ethical problems (such as whether to permit the plea of insanity in criminal cases), the cost to society of treatment, and so on. All of these can be aggravated by the social stigma attached to mental illness. It can be said that the mentally ill suffer twice: They suffer both illness and rejection, as if their illness were their own fault. This is not nearly as true for problems of physical health, and this factor alone marks off mental illness for special consideration in the study of social problems.

A particularly distressing aspect of the general problem of mental illness is the social impact of deinstitutionalization, or discharging patients from mental hospitals directly into the community. Some of these patients are not able to function as “normal” members of society, and the consequences can be painful both for them and for those who come into contact with them. Others may suffer from less severe, but also debilitating, problems caused by rejection and stigma.  Treatment for such individuals in settings outside mental hospitals has been difficult to establish.

Policy makers at every level of society must  look to sociologists and other social scientists for basic research on the causes of mental illness and on the effects of major policy initiatives like deinstitutionalization, as well as recommendations on how to deal with trends in mental illness. 

In studying social problems related to mental illness, the basic sociological perspectives can help clarify the relevant issues and explain some aspects of the origins of mental disorders. The interactionist perspective focuses on the “social construction” of mental illness, that is, on how our definitions of “normal” and “deviant” behavior in social situations lead to definitions of mental disorders. To a large extent, the definition of mental illness is the province of psychologists and psychiatrists. Their diagnoses result in labels such as “schizophrenic” or “depressed.” Research by sociologists who have studied the interactions among people who are thought of as mentally ill suggests that simply labeling a person as mentally ill may cause the person to define himself or herself as ill and to behave in ways that confirm that self-definition.

Conflict explanations of social phenomena look especially at how mental illness may be associated with deprivation and inequality, including unequal access to appropriate care. For example, race and sex are associated with inequality of wealth, power, and other social values, and hence are often associated with stress and some mental disorders. Research by conflict sociologists suggests that in treatment institutions people with less of what is valued in the larger society often receive less adequate care after symptoms of mental illness appear. Also, the mentally ill may themselves become the subject of conflict as they are shunted from one place to another outside of mental institutions. 

From a functionalist perspective, mental illnesses present social problems because they challenge our ability to provide effective treatment. This is especially true in societies that are marked by rapid social change, in which people do not have long-standing attachments to others in their immediate social surroundings or are separated from their families quite often, or in which systems of treatment have been changing rapidly and it is not clear how people with mental disorders should be helped.

We suggest that the government of the Bahamas, working with Civil Society design a robust program to deal with the mental illness in our society. It is our considered view  that  many  of  the crimes committed  are linked to mental illness. Indeed, many of the inmates in our prison are  there because they were demented when their crimes were committed.  A caring society would attend to these issues with some urgency. 

Written by Jones Bahamas

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