MONTEGO BAY, St James — The gruesome discovery of 53-year-old Michelle Gayle-Brown’s headless body inside her home in Retirement, St James, has triggered a call for additional conversations to be had surrounding stigmas attached to dealing with a loved one living with mental illnesses.
Gayle-Brown is suspected to have been attacked and killed by her mentally ill 29-year-old son, a police source told the Jamaica Observer. It is believed that the mother of one was killed between Sunday evening and early Monday morning. She had failed to turn up to work in Freeport, which aroused suspicion among her co-workers who requested that the police conduct a check of her house.
The check resulted in her headless body being found inside the house. Her head was later found under a bed.
A blanket of grief clouded the Retirement community on Monday evening as residents congregated to share stories of their interactions with Gayle-Brown, who they described as “a pleasant, God-fearing woman”. In addition to being beheaded, Gayle-Brown is said to have been found with defensive wounds across her upper body.
Her adult son surrendered to the police at the crime scene, emerging from a dark road with his hands held in the air.
While expressing condolence to the deceased woman’s family on Tuesday, Councillor Michael Troupe (People’s National Party, Granville Division) told the Observer that he has been “shaken up” since hearing the news.
Troupe stated that after hearing who the police suspected of committing the heinous crime, he felt compelled to appeal that Jamaicans take the proper avenues available to seek help for their relatives afflicted with mental illness.
“I could not even go to the house yesterday because I cannot manage that,” Troupe said.
He suspects that shame is a factor that is discouraging a lot of people from seeking medical help.
“I think family members are not reporting when their loved ones have mental illnesses. They are keeping it a secret. They do not want others to know that their child has a mental issue because, for someone to have a mental issue in the community, it is seen as a curse,” he told the Observer.
“It is not a curse. There is no problem if you go and get help for your loved ones. Report it to the health authorities, and they will drive around to provide the medication. I see they do it in Granville all the time,” Troupe added.
Psychologist Dr Leahcim Semaj agreed, saying that “the stigma associated with mental illness is probably worse than the illness itself”.
“Many times it prevents us from seeking help early. I do believe that once you see deviant behaviours you should seek help, not just from friends and family, but professional help. There are a lot of therapeutic help and medicinal approaches that can contain and control behaviour,” Dr Semaj explained.
“But the longer we wait to get help the harder it is to provide corrective measures,” he warned.
“In the same way that psychical illness is possible, mental challenges are indeed possible. Too many times the fear of what friends or neighbours will say prevents people from responding early enough,” he added.
Dr Wendel Abel, professor of mental health policy and head of the Department of Community Health and Psychiatry at The University of the West Indies, Mona, St Andrew, told the Observer that more importance should be placed on mental illnesses at the Government level.
“Under normal circumstances, these persons should be under surveillance by our community mental health services, and I think another individual [suspected of] being killed by a person living with mental illness is just one too many. The point I make is that we have to strengthen our crisis response services at the community level and to make community mental health care more accessible, especially to high-risk individuals,” said Dr Abel.
“Just blaming stigma and discrimination is not good. I find a lot of time in my daily work that people call when they are in distress,” he added.
He suggested that the current crisis intervention number provided by the Ministry of Health and Wellness be revisited and simplified.
“I am a mental health professional and I can’t even remember the number. It should be a simple number with three digits like 119. If you have a real crisis and you see a man wielding a machete, you don’t have time to try and Google this number. They should make the number simplified. Solving some of the problems just demands simple and clear solutions,” Dr Abel told the Observer.