Where’s the empathy?
Last week, the chief executive officer of Supreme Counseling Shawn Clarke offered comments to this publication that were insensitive and indicative of an extraordinary lack of empathy and a modern-day Barbadian problem.
Clarke was speaking days after a 16-year-old St Michael girl was found hanging in her home, having committed suicide. He intimated that he was “privileged” to see her social media pages and there was evidence that she was facing challenges and crying out for help online for some time before her tragic death. Clarke further stated that it was “sad that adults or those on her page never saw the need to look into her posts and find out why she was making such posts and find out what is going on with her”.
These comments were not merely inelegant or inartful, they were unnecessary. As well intentioned as they may have been, the comments serve to provide fodder for a familiar kind of Bajan maliciousness about whether those charged with the child’s care did enough. It is unclear whether Clarke counseled the child or the capacity in which he was privileged to view this information. He is not a doctor and so she was not his patient, and resultantly did not benefit from the confidentiality that would define such a relationship, but his comments are indicative of a lack of empathy and maybe an indication as to why there is a hesitance to seek care for mental health issues across our society. A hesitance which the Acting Director of the Psychiatric Hospital David Leacock referred to recently: “Sometimes we see them at the end of the road. . . . Parents admit they won’t bring the children because they are ashamed that their children have mental health issues; they think it reflects on them negatively.”
Whether those charged with the teenager’s care missed signs that she was unwell or, conversely, did all they could, they deserve the chance to grieve and mourn, and Clarke’s comments in a society like ours, which can be supremely unkind, impede them from doing so with dignity and without intrusion. It must be noted that the blame does not end with Clarke.
Some of the blame for any distress to the family and the propagation of this lack of empathy must also lay at the feet of this publication.
This publication should have solicited and printed comments from Clarke that were egalitarian and unspecific but equally as important to the broader picture about the mental health of the nation’s children.
The media has to execute a responsibility in reporting sensitively on these issues. To seek and publish these comments was flatly inappropriate. Legality is not the single metric by which an organization decides whether something is fit for print or not. Even in these modern times when “Pudding and Souse” type material is often sold as robust journalism, respected institutions should avoid the urge to play to the cheap seats.
Admittedly, conversations about the care of our children and mental health are critical in this country at this time. However, such must be framed appropriately so that the most salient points are not gossipy and tawdry in an attempt to boast traffic or sell units, but poignant and thought-provoking so as to help foster a change in behaviour.
People’s lives are not soap operas to be unreeled for the entertainment of a consuming public without any real consequence.
There is no real delineation between the printing of such comments and the trend of forwarding graphic and gruesome photos of someone’s dead or dying body, or the frenzied transmission of details about the innermost lives of people when social media gets into a trance about an individual’s romantic and sexual proclivities, all which have become constants in our society of late.
Furthermore, it is difficult to mark the beginning of this insatiable appetite for mining and exposing information about the innermost lives of people. Did it begin with gathering on the front step and “wizzy wizzying” about who were the fathers of the three children who had just moved into the neighborhood with their single and unmarried mother? Was it through the publishing of Pudding and Souse-type material in what are otherwise respectable publications? Wherever it began, we are now at a point where it appears there is little care for privacy, or as Cultural Ambassador The Mighty Gabby said in his song The List, “Dat don’t suit Bajan character; dem know we mout ain’t have no covah”.
All of these instances are connected by a lack of empathy.
At the base of it all, this trend represents a tear in the fabric of humanity inherent in Barbadian society and we cannot afford for it to go unrepaired, for it would cement our status as a country without empathy.