By MALCOLM STRACHAN
THE comments of Police Commissioner Paul Rolle during his presentation of crime data from 2020 incensed many people across the country – but we have an opportunity to learn from this moment. The gaffe - Commissioner Rolle referring to men who committed suicide in 2020 as being “weak” because they were unable to deal better with domestic issues – is a problem that reaches much farther than one man’s ignorance.
On the contrary, it is indicative of an incredible degree of low emotional intelligence, insensitivity towards others and a total disregard of the toll poor mental health takes on people.
At the end of the day, we’re just people. We’re not perfect. And no one is impervious to life just becoming too much at times. While we may pontificate and offer uninformed judgments about other’s situations, we ought to take a step back and look at what people in our country go through on a daily basis.
Life in paradise is far from it for the average Bahamian who lives hand-to-mouth, was likely raised in an abusive broken home, only left to perpetuate the cycle of brokenness in a society where leaders do little to reverse any of the negative effects that are consequences of our own inaction. Even in some homes where there are two parents, societal norms of sweet-hearting and emotionally absent paternal parenting creates a warped sense of manhood for our youth – our young men in particular.
Look no further than the murder rate, men being involved in gangs, incidences of domestic violence, high rates of imprisonment and the reported attempts of suicides to diagnose the problem.
What’s worse is the fact these individuals – who are internally crying out for help – hardly know how to get the help they are desperate for. And rather than being afforded the ability to know it is okay to ask for help, someone in such a high profile position within the country – a leader of the police force whose primary mandate is to protect and serve Bahamians – makes the blanket characterisation of hurting individuals as weak.
This level of our people being ostracised is sadly a matter of reaping what we sowed.
This isn’t a Paul Rolle problem. While it is incredibly disappointing he serves as the poster child for Bahamian society’s failure in this regard, we must not point the finger solely at COP Rolle, but rather look at ourselves. An honest moment of introspection is needed by each of us, perhaps most importantly those in leadership.
Have we taken the time to check in with our mental health – that of our family, friends and neighbours? What about our co-workers? Rather than gossiping or assuming we have the answer to other people’s problems and oversimplifying their solutions, have we honestly taken the time to put ourselves in other people’s shoes?
Empathy is what is needed, friends – a simple dose of “today for you, tomorrow for me”.
When these conversations escape from the offices of mental health professionals and take place around the dinner table with our families, within Cabinet and throughout society with people-centred solutions as the focus, then we will be on a path to progress. We must foster an environment where conversations about mental health are taken seriously.
Poor care of our mental health is an invisible killer that ripples throughout society.
A study done by US News & World Report and the Aetna Foundation, in determining the Healthiest Communities rankings for 2020, discovered that poor mental health is as dangerous as diabetes and smoking to shortening our life spans. With linkages to overall poor health choices, stress is wearing down populations all over the world.
A good place to begin with is becoming more informed about how well our citizens are doing with their mental health. Government cannot merely want to save face during a time where it is obvious the pandemic has had significant impact on suicides. Thus Rolle’s tone, to this end, was also very problematic.
The realisation of the pandemic’s impact on mental health, as well as suicide, has been recognised in a number of jurisdictions, the US, Canada, Japan, Australia and the UK, to name a few. The major difference in these countries something is now being done to understand this is a problem.
Long before there was a pandemic, Bahamians have been stressed as a result of the rising cost of living and trying to make ends meet. We’ve had to endure much without any real relief for a long time. We’ve been promised much by successive governments, only to end back up in the same place, left wanting and disappointed.
We still exist within the same society that essentially tells us we’re weak for being vulnerable – being human. Such abhorrent treatment may not result in an increase of suicides but ask yourselves this. Should it require the act of someone taking their own life to prove the point that we all bear a burden of responsibility?
This issue is cultural. It has been passed down through generations, and the only way to break the cycle is by each of us challenging ourselves to develop more empathy. It is really not much to ask.
I, for one, accept the apology given by the Commissioner. But I also issue a challenge. Let your actions speak loudly via policies within the police force that focus on sensitivity training. Let the Bahamian people see you taking a real stance on this issue, truly protecting and serving society.