Posted in Blog, Mental Health

Psychology in the English-Speaking Caribbean, by Tony Ward and Frederick Hickling

Psychology in the English-speaking Caribbean

Tony Ward and Frederick Hickling, (August 2004), Psychology in the English-speaking Caribbean, The Psychologist. Vol 17, No. 8

 

During my research on cultural psychology in my first module of Mental Health Psychology, I stumbled upon the above article, which piqued my interest. As you know, I’ve been looking more and more into my culture – which is unfortunately difficult because St Lucia is a small island. However, this article really struck me, because Jamaica speaks for many in terms of the psychological damage Western imperialism and Colonialism has done to the Caribbean. 

“Surely British society owes a debt to the peoples who were colonised for economic advantage for over 350 years?”

“Sun-drenched beaches fringed by palm trees and turquoise waters, an abundance of rum, a laid-back atmosphere… as the largest of the English- speaking Caribbean islands, Jamaica shapes the view many Europeans have of the region. Few tourists venture far from the resort areas to discover the realities of Caribbean life for the ordinary people. If they did, they would discover a local population struggling to make a living, and areas beset with social problems including drugs and violence. Some 40 years after independence, these societies are still struggling with the legacy of European colonialism. It is within this context that psychology has recently become established, and there is much scope for the discipline to make an impact.

Overcoming the legacy of colonialism
At a time when the British have disowned their empire and schoolchildren are barely aware of this aspect of their country’s history, former colonies are still grappling with the legacy of colonialism. These effects include the virtual annihilation of the indigenous population, the re-population of the region by migration of European settlers, and the forced migration of African slaves. Each European colonial power reshaped the social environment in its own likeness and image, much of which remains in place today. Under British colonialism, the culture of the African majority was suppressed in favour of the minority rulers. The BBC provided the official news, with Sunday worship available at the Church of England in Jamaica. Glissant (1997) wrote passionately about the effect on his home country of Martinique of French cultural dominance, pointing out such anomalies as the local press regularly alerting the population to the first day of spring, in a country where the temperature rarely falls below 30° centigrade. At the end of such domination, populations are left struggling for a sense of identity (see Trimble et al., 2003, for more general discussion of the issue of ethnic and racial identity development).

Coupled to this is the legacy of 300 years of slavery. Whilst modern Europeans may have difficulty seeing why current African Caribbeans should still be affected by the legacy of slavery over 150 years after abolition, it is hard to imagine the effect of constantly knowing that one’s ancestors were forcibly removed from their homeland to work on the plantations of the New World. Most Caribbean people insist that the African retentions of language, religions, and cultural expressions of art drama, dance and music present in everyday life are constant reminders of the major and often traumatic syncretism with European culture.

Most Caribbean people strongly believe that such deep trauma on a people can result in long-lasting psychic upheaval, which must certainly be a question worthy of psychological attention. Such trauma might be evident in the psychological make-up of the individual, for example in feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. More obviously, the total dislocation of slavery and its subsequent impact is likely to have disrupted social and family practices. Such disruptions are quite likely to have permeated across several generations, resulting today in dysfunctional families, poor parenting and difficult relations between sexes. Even if the effect were not as dramatic as some suggest, the ongoing legacy of underdevelopment and economic disadvantage is very real and undeniable.

Furthermore, as people of colour, African Caribbeans have had to endure generations of racial prejudice […] Caribbean psychiatrists from Jamaica and Trinidad respectively, Hickling and Hutchinson (1999, 2000), have suggested that these racial identity conflicts in African Caribbean people – when brought into confrontation with European racism – may be a significant cause of the high rates of psychosis that have been reported in African Caribbean migrants to the UK and Holland.

In our opinion, all of these issues affecting post-colonial societies demand a dynamic response from the psychological profession. There are several other immediate concerns for psychology in the English-speaking Caribbean. Crime and violence is escalating, demanding an input from forensic psychology. The continuation of the plantation economy and old management practices, inherited from the colonial legacy and now perpetuated by the present ruling elite, have contributed to economic stagnation. These factors, and the need to adopt the latest technology, suggest a role for occupational psychology. Troubles in schools, an outdated selection system based upon the old English grammar school hierarchy, and families split by parents having to seek work abroad, all point to the need for educational and developmental specialists. A growing HIV/AIDS problem and mushrooming mental health needs further point to the need for health and clinical psychology.”

“Few tourists venture far from the resort areas to discover the realities of Caribbean life for the ordinary people”.

 

 

WEBLINKS:

Jamaican Psychological Society:

www.jps.org.jm Caribbean norms and test development as well as material on ethno-psychology:

www.neuropsychologica.com

References

Crossman, E., Ward,T., Wright, E., Matthies, B. & Hickling, F. (in press).Validation of the Zung Depression Rating Scale for use in Jamaica. West Indies Medical journal.

Fanon, F. (2000). Black skin, white masks. London:Avalon Travel Publications. (Original work published 1956 as Peau noire, masque blanc)

Glissant, E. ( 1997). The poetics of relation. Ann Arbor, Ml: University of Michigan Press.

Hickling, F.W.& Hutchinson,G. (1999).The roast breadfruit psychosis – Disturbed racial identification in African Caribbeans. Psychiatric Bulletin, 23, I -3.

Hickling, F.W.& Hutchinson,G. (2000).Post-colonialism and mental health: Understanding the roast breadfruit. Psychiatric Bulletin, 24,94-95 .

Hickling, F.W. & Matthies, B. (2004).Training clinical psychologists at the University of the West Indies [Letter to the editor]. West Indies Medical Journal, 52(4), 326.

Trimble, J.E., Helms,J.E.& Root, M.PP. (2003). Social and psychological perspectives on ethnic and racial identity. In Bernai, G..Trimble,J.E., Burlew,A.K. & Leong, F.T.L. (Eds.) Handbook of racial and ethnic minority psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Ward.T. (2002, February). Validation and norms of the University of the West Indies cognitive assessment system. Paper presented at the annual conference of the International Neuropsychological Society,Toronto, Canada.

Dr Tony Ward is Head of Psychology at Newman College, Birmingham (previously a senior lecturer at the University of the West Indies). E-mail: a.ward@newman.ac. ilk.

Professor Frederick Hickling is Head of the Section of Psychiatry at the University of the West Indies at Mona, Kingston, Jamaica. E-mail: frederick. hickling@im>imona. edu.jm.

 

Author:

I’m Cece Alexandra and I have Epilepsy. Since being diagnosed, my life has changed significantly. After studying and teaching Humanities and Literature for all of my adult life, I was bullied and lost my job a month before qualifying to become an English Teacher. Once you fail the Teacher Training course in England, you cannot ever retrain; I then became too sick to work because of my Epilepsy. I am now currently studying an MSc in Mental Health Psychology with the University of Liverpool. My disability provokes me into raising awareness for invisible disabilities, which I also actively partake in with Epilepsy Action. Part of that awareness is to help fight against invisible disability discrimination - I believe that this behaviour is not cognitively unconscious; modern society is actively partaking in a hierarchy of disabilities and I believe that there is not enough psychological research to prove this. I am also clinically interested in Cultural Psychology - particularly Collectivist Culture, and wish to pursue this further in my academic career.

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