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Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, is urging Jamaicans to desist from stigmatising persons with mental illnesses and instead show them more care, love and respect.

He noted that these attributes, along with proper treatment, are critical in the recovery process of the individual. "Here in Jamaica…there is a persistent stigma attached to mental illness, which needs to be removed if the problem is to be addressed effectively," he stated.

"We have to get to the stage in Jamaica where we treat mental illness as an illness that can affect anyone. We must show care and respect to individuals with mental illness and not abuse them," he added.

The Health Minister was speaking at the World Mental Health Day conference on October 10 at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston. The day is being observed under the theme: 'Depression: A Global Crisis'.

He said the observance provides the opportunity to raise public awareness about mental health issues, including the realities of depression, which affects nearly 350 million people of all ages around the world.

Dr. Ferguson noted that depression is widespread, disabling and often goes unrecognised and untreated. Citing a World Health Organization (WHO) survey, he said that depression has the largest effect on health compared with the other listed chronic illnesses.

He noted, however, that persons with chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer have much greater rates of depression and anxiety than the general population, which intensifies their physical illness and symptoms.

This leads to an increase in medical cost, and causes significant goal impairment, work loss and work cut backs.

The Health Minister said that families play a critical role in assisting loved ones, who suffer from depression, and can be a major source of comfort, care and possibly cure.

"They are crucial to proper recognition and treatment of the disorders as they contribute to the emotional atmosphere of the depressed persons and so they can be agents of recovery," he pointed out.

The Minister said that effective treatment for mental illnesses does exist, stating that "we have appropriate interventions to address these problems, which reduce the burden on people’s life and the economic and social burden on society".

Mental health is one of the priority programmes of the Ministry and is keeping with a mandate from the WHO/Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Part of that mandate includes the ongoing development of the community mental health services to provide "equitable, integrated, and comprehensive care, which are acceptable, available and accessible to the people of Jamaica, while at all times respecting their human rights".

The objectives of the conference were: to promote mental health and coping strategies; increase awareness of depression and other mental illnesses, facilitating prompt diagnosis and treatment; and to advance the integration of mental health into primary health care.

Some of the topics discussed were: ‘Depression in children’; ‘The economic impact of depression’; ‘Depression in a recession’; ‘Depression in chronic diseases and the elderly’; ‘Depression in care givers of the mentally ill’; and ‘Counselling tips in depression’.