Whenever the topic of mental health comes up, some Barbadians tend to get uneasy and their minds drift to the point where they think only of someone they know, who has a psychological disorder, who now frequents that “special place” in Black Rock.
However, it must be noted that just as Barbadians place great focus on their physical health, they should pay great attention as well, to the area of their mental health.
Now when we speak of “Mental Health”, we are referring to a state of psychological and emotional well-being, in which an individual is able to use his cognitive and emotional abilities, function in society and meet the social and ordinary demands of everyday life. So someone who has good mental health, is able to cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully and make a contribution to his or her community. Now on the other side of the coin, we have mental illness, which refers to a recognised, medically diagnosable illness, that results in the significant impairment of an individual’s cognitive, affective or relational abilities. So someone afflicted by a mental disorder, can display patterns of behavioural or psychological symptoms that impact multiple life areas and create distress for the person experiencing these symptoms. Thus, it is when our mental health declines and we are affected by mental illness, that concern arises.
That said, we really need to address the issue of stigma and discrimination, that is said to be impacting 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.
Of late, it has been noted that even though Government has allocated BDS$30.5 million to psychiatric care in the current financial year and has also implemented a range of initiatives aimed at enhancing mental health services, that stigma and discrimination are major hurdles to overcome, when it comes to the rehabilitation of those impaired by mental illness.
Health Minister John Boyce recently noted that 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, he has disclosed that there was still much more to be done, as society needs to overcome this stigma about persons suffering from mental illness.
However, we must acknowledge that the mystery surrounding our primary mental health care institution, the Psychiatric Hospital, is a problem. There is too much speculation about what truly goes on there that does not lend to a supportive environment for those who are released from the care of that institution. Perhaps we also need to consider that the overall physical state of such an institution, does not help the situation either.
Once we start to educate the public at a more meaningful level however, and we show that there are persons who have a mental illness, who can still function well, once they adhere to their treatment regime and 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.