Caribbean societies are not seeing the importance of dealing with mental health issues and it is costing them.
This was the assertion of Dr. Colwick Wilson, one of the speakers this evening at the opening of the 58th annual Health Research Conference hosted by the Caribbean Public Health Agency at the Hilton Barbados in Needham’s Point in St. Michael.
The doctor, who was trained in medical sociology and health, told Barbados TODAY that mental health research and treatment were still in there infancy because it was believed that mental health was an individual’s problem. However, he noted that as a result of this thinking, issues which arose from lack of treatment, for example homicide, suicide, were fast becoming a societal problem.
“Part of the problem is the society values what it will promote. Society promotes physical health, so every year everyone is encouraged, whether you are sick or not, to go see a doctor — that is routinely a part of your thoughts, but when it comes to mental health, society sees the mental illness as something that is the individual’s problem… ‘You bring it on yourself, you deal with it’.
“So physical health is something that you and I are not responsible for but mental health you are responsible for. Society doesn’t want to deal with these emotional mental health issues to the extent that we have resources that protect some of us more than others and to that extent we are able to function well.
“But the people who don’t have the resources are the people who commit homicide, suicide, who behave in certain ways outside of the realm acceptable to people in the society and those people are easily stigmatised. Once they are stigmatised, attention is not given scientifically to the whole issue that mental health is not necessarily an individual’s problem,” he said.
Wilson added: “It is a society’s problem…. I think the people who are in a position in terms of making policies … need to know there is a huge need for education, awareness, understanding of what mental illness is and how similar it is to physical health — how the two of them interact in a way that is very powerful.”
Throughout his presentation, Wilson showed that one of the main markers of the mental health status of individuals was suicide. He further said that though that when compared to the rest of the world, suicide rates in the Caribbean were relatively low and people were of the opinion there was no need to address the issue now. But he warned that something must be done now.
The conference continues until May 4. (KC)