Andre Wellington enjoyed good mental health while growing up with his mother and six siblings at Southfield in St Elizabeth.
However, abnormalities kicked in while he was pursuing his diploma in teaching at Bethlehem Moravian College.
“Based on what I can recall and what was told to me, I started experiencing problem sleeping and then I would wake up seeing things and hearing voices,” he told The Beacon.
Wellington did a relatively short stint as teacher at Lititz Primary and Infant School in St. Elizabeth while the symptoms of his illness were still mild.
He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and psychotic depression in 1998 while still living in his native parish.
The following year, Wellington relocated to Manchester and landed a teaching job at Christiana Leased Primary School.
During his tenure there, he had his first real psychotic episode in 2000 and a much milder relapse in 2006.
The first episode affected him terribly, forcing him off the job for months.
“That period was what I would regard as a wilderness experience; it was a very dark period in my life because, first of all, the stigma that comes with mental illness literally destabilized me at the time,” Wellington recalled. “I would leave from home walking up and down on the street and basically being non-compliant with my medication and being dirty.”
He eventually picked himself up, making good use of the help he got from relatives and mental health practitioners who were employed to Spalding Health Centre at the time.
“I was able to restore my mental health and return to a normal life of functioning. Since then, I think I have battled it quite manly by staying compliant with my medications, joining support group, and reaching out to people who empathized with me,” Wellington explained.
He made significant progress to the point where he returned to his job at Christiana Leased Primary School, but he still faced stigma and so opted for a change of environment.
Wellington picked the tranquil parish of Portland, and worked there as a disciplinary warden at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education.
While doing that, he strengthened his credentials, attaining a Bachelor’s degree in counselling psychology from the International University of the Caribbean. He is now pursuing a Master’s degree in counselling psychology through an online programme with Reuters University.
Wellington also holds a Bachelor’s in history and political science, which he pursued part-time at Northern Caribbean University while doing his stint at Christiana Leased Primary.
He is currently a Justice of the Peace, and the dean of discipline at Alston High School in Clarendon.
Wellington is also an active member of the Kiwanis Club of Spalding and Charistiana, the Optimist Club, and the Spalding Citizens’ Association.
While serving his community, he never lost sight of the people who still face the mental anguish he overcame.
Wellington told The Beacon that he volunteers with mental health practitioners at Spalding Health Centre, as well as raise funds in order to distribute care packages and other items to mentally ill people.
His next big plan is to establish an association of mental health patients in Manchester and Clarendon.
“I have been extending myself to see what incremental ways I can harness or provide some leadership to help the community of the mentally ill of which I am a member,” he commented. “I want people to remember me as someone who would be a voice for the community of the mentally ill in trying to repair their broken dignity.”
As part of the repair, Government should allocate more resources to mental health services across the island, Wellington indicated.
“Street people, for example, we can’t just have them roaming the streets armed with weapons – knives, ice picks and stuff like that. We have to find a way where systems are in place where they become medicated. Without their becoming medicated, the likelihood of them having a psychotic episode becomes much higher,” Wellington argued. “Part of the problem we have as a society is that we are not paying sufficient attention to the whole issue of mental health, and we are not providing the resources to deal with the problem.”
Until more hands are on deck, Wellington is determined to continue making a difference, starting with the mentally ill in his neck of the woods.
By Horace Mills, Managing Editor
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