People living with mental health conditions often have to battle stigma and discrimination, in addition to their disorder. In Barbados, stigma and discrimination also present a huge challenge in the workplace, for those with mental health issues.
Calling attention to this issue recently was Minister of Health John Boyce, who was quick to point out that the misconceptions towards mental illness continue to fuel the discrimination and mistreatment occurring in the workplace.
The Health Minister is quoted as saying that, “Adults often fear that disclosure of their mental illness will have negative consequences for their employment, their family and their participation generally, in community life.”
Boyce however added, “We must ensure that persons with mental health conditions are not denied opportunities to contribute to social and economic life and their human rights are indeed protected.”
His call for an end to stigma and discrimination, echoes the cries of a number of local psychologists, especially those in the clinical field, who have made it clear that Barbadians need to get away from the bad practice of discriminating against those affected by a mental health disorder. They have also noted that Barbadians need to move away from the bad practice of assigning persons labels, since these labels often stick and perpetuate stigma and discrimination even further. For example, individuals who have a mental illness are too often described as “mad”, even though they may be functioning well and in optimum health, at various points in time.
What is lacking, is greater awareness about mental health in general and mental illnesses. Once we start to educate the public at a more meaningful level, we can show that there are persons who may have a mental illness, but who can still function well, once they adhere to their treatment regime. Once we demystify mental illness on a whole, by showing Barbadians what to look out for, and indicate why some persons may need extra care, we may find that persons are more willing to tackle this issue, head on.
We also really need to address the issue of stigma and discrimination, so that it does not impact drastically on mental health treatment in Barbados. It is widely acknowledged that Barbadians will openly discuss a physical illness without batting an eyelid, but when it comes to the topic of mental illness, persons are not ready to have an open discussion, as they perhaps fear that they will be rejected by society and ostracised. Therefore, they may shy away from openly getting treatment for an issue that could be easily fixed and the situation could then spiral out of hand.
Government meanwhile has been trying to do its part, implementing a range of initiatives aimed at enhancing mental health services in Barbados. The Ministry of Health has been placing great focus on enhancing community-based mental health services, in an effort to make it more convenient for those with mental health conditions to receive treatment near their homes. Further, psychiatric out-patient sessions are also now being offered in the polyclinics. However, there is still much more to be done, before society can overcome the challenge of stigma and discrimination and with open arms, assist and embrace persons suffering from mental challenges.