Commentary Jamaica Magazine

The Mentally Challenged Street People

Written by Kharl Daley

Day after day we pass them, disoriented and forgotten. Lost in a world that is so unkind and unfriendly. Their existence to the vast majority is just as insignificant as their sufferings, and they are looked down on in the same sense of casualness as animals that likewise roam the streets. Yet, they are really our very own blood and kin, family members of the human race, and if truth be told of many, their illnesses are of no fault of them. These are the Mentally Challenged, the ones we so often refer to, or teasingly call, “Madman” and “Madwoman.”

No one seemingly cares about these people except for few notable charitable organizations such as, “The Salvation Army” and “Missionary Brothers of the Poor”. They mostly go about unclean and tattered while some are totally nude. Hungry, they compete with rodents and insects, salvaging nutrients from spoils left in garbage bins so as to sustain life. Perils set upon them like germs of an infested wound and frequently, they are the victims of taunts and physical attacks from ill-bred children and un-discretionary adults alike.

The mentally challenge street people are provided no food and medical assistance and have no “established” place to stay. They seek shelter from nature in no different ways than stray goats, pigs and dogs, spending nights on shop piazzas and in abandoned buildings. Forsaken by families and friends their situations garner only a picayune form of assistance and protection from government and its institutions. Again, these are citizens of our land; born, bred and grown on Jamaica’s soil.

In a society of so many worshipers and believers to various faiths and denominations, a simple miracle of understanding, of compassion and love is for what this appeal is designed. We cannot continue to give a “blind eye” and “turn our noses up” with deliberate scorn to the delirious and squalid and inhumane conditions of those who are mentally challenged that live on the streets. Do the religious doctrines not encompass those who fall from grace?

In whatever little way, in whatever little difference, their conditions must now speak to our conscience in a timeless and intimate way. This change must start from within our hearts and transcend to genuine acts of care and kindness towards the mentally challenge street people. We must be mindful that there is only a thin line between sanity and insanity and at times the same fate may await us all.

It is credulous that mental illness usually stem from the usage and (or) abuse of drugs (and) or alcohol, the effect of which is probably that which creates the mountains of mistreatment and high altitudes of neglect that is meted out to mentally challenge street people. Such mentality can dissipate with public education. Addressing the opening of the Institute of African Studies in October 25, 1963 Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkrumah stated the following on education:

“Education consists not only in the sum of what a man knows, or the skill with which he can put this to his own advantage. A man’s education must also be measured in terms of the soundness of his judgement of people and things, and in his power to understand and appreciate the needs of his fellow-men, and to be of service to them. The educated man should be so sensitive to the conditions around him that he makes it is chief endevaour to improve those conditions for the good of all.”

Mental Illness is a medical condition that at best can be cured, but mainly can only be treated. We need not despise the very people our morality should guide us to protect. The values of our society are shaped and embedded in the nation’s motto “Out of many one people” and in its pledge of “Loyalty and fellowship to our fellow citizens.” Henceforth, let us all practice the virtues of brotherhood and love. Let us give true meaning to the aforementioned credence and pool our resources to establish a place of safety and care for the mentally challenge people among us and those in particular that live on the streets.

About the author

Kharl Daley