When a child is born, and for the first decade of its life, those of us who love it most, pay particular attention to its physical health, raising the alarm at every bump, bruise or cough. However, less attention is paid to its mental health.
Add to that that emotions, by and large, are not encouraged as the nuanced and complex constants of life, which are valuable and imperative to personal growth, but are oft-times flattened and discouraged.
No doubt, a child who is not taught the rudiments of keeping himself or herself mentally and emotionally healthy cannot practise such on their own when the time is ripe. So by and large that child learns that what happens in its head is intangible and unimportant, or certainly not as important as what happens in the physical world.
A larger –– and perhaps equally problematic –– set of lessons is that of stoicism: an invulnerability which has effects for a lifetime unless these habits are unlearned. Reconciling many of the things we learn and in turn teach, with the goal of holistic health, can prove difficult.
We all know the personal pitfalls of life can come in several different forms –– death, heartbreak, job loss –– yet we hesitate to allow persons to react, to grieve and mourn as they desire. Evidence of our unwillingness to allow people to go through their emotional processes and find themselves on the other side are chidings to “move on” or “you and that again?”.
When we chide people in this way, when we tell them what to worry about, or admonish them to be happy, we do not help; but, alas, one can only do what one knows how to. With this advice, we leave them feeling more inadequate, more broken, more hollow. These admonishments may feed shame in a society where we are encouraged to hide these troubles, encouraged to be silent and strong.
Needless to say, it’s one thing when we can recognize what the person is upset or unnerved about; it is quite another when it is anxiety, panic, or depression over something that we as casual observers cannot identify.
The reality that religion and God are ingrained parts of Barbadian culture sometimes appears to militate against sound mental health. A refrain often heard is: “I do not need therapy or medicine because I have God.”
Many Barbadians appear to find it difficult to reconcile belief in an all-powerful, all-healing higher power with the fact that they may need the intervention from an earthly professional about issues of mental health.
Our inability to support those grappling with these issues at an interpersonal level seems to have fed into an inability to provide the proper services at the broader societal level. Our lone Psychiatric Hospital has been in shambles for a while now, with employees complaining of the most deplorable of conditions. It is not difficult for one to assume that patients of this institution interpret the lack of regard for the upkeep of the place to be a lack of regard for them.
People dealing with mental or emotional issues in this day and age now have to deal with the potential triggers of social media. Social media is where everyone has an opinion on everything, which has the ability to be a landmine for individuals who are facing challenges mentally or emotionally.
It is natural for a friend of someone facing challenges of this kind to wonder what they can do: become the emphatic voice as part of a support system that includes medical assistance and professional help if necessary.
The stigma of living with a mental illness is all too real for many, who tell stories of losing jobs and losing connections with loved ones. Unfortunately, receiving the necessary care for a variety of mental diagnoses, while maintaining careers and families and living full lives not limited by these diagnoses, is the reality of too few. The ability to get the required assistance in time is often defined by class. Those who have the autonomy to carve out time in their schedules for regular visits to a professional, or just to rest are usually the middle class.
Gender is an interesting variable to a discussion on mental health. Perhaps no one else is taught to be more stoic, strong and silent than the Barbadian male.
[John] Boyce stated that between 2010 and 2014 the hospital admitted 876 males, compared with 277 females. First-time admissions in 2014 totalled 169 males and 68 females. The Minister of Health also revealed that the readmission rate was no different, with 760 males and 217 females readmitted in 2014.
Perhaps these stats crystallize that we need to rethink how we socialize our boys.
Any Barbadian male who grew up and was allowed to share his inner most feelings without being branded “soft” or being maligned should count himself lucky.
The relatively few number of women in our Psychiatric Hospital could also be attributed to the fact that we live in a society where women are more and more the heads of households; and thus being admitted to mental hospital is not an option for women who are likely to have others depending on their constant presence.
Mental health is as important as all other facets of health and we need to begin treating it as such. Imagine a society where we take the time and devote our energies and our resources to helping a segment of our population that too often feels isolated and alone.
(Andwele Boyce is a young communicator who is passionate about politics and popular culture. He holds a Master’s in international trade.)