The country’s second COVID-19 lockdown in less than a year, is contributing to a significant increase in mental health issues, according to Director of the Psychiatric Hospital, David Leacock.
Particularly worrying however is the mental condition of some of the island’s youth. The concerns follow the second suspected suicide of a young male in less than a week.
So serious is the issue, Leacock revealed that the revival of a Suicide Prevention Hotline is now extremely high on Government’s agenda.
On Valentine’s day, the body of 27-year-old Andrew Ellis was found hanging at his Windy Ridge, Christ Church home. Three days later at Crab Hill, St. Lucy, the body of 19-year-old Tyrique Norville was found hanging, according to a police report.
In the last 12 months alone, at least eight of the country’s suspected suicides claimed persons under the age of 40. Four of those eight young people were teenagers.
According to Leacock, in addition to a myriad of possible social, environmental and psychological issues, youth are even more vulnerable during lockdowns with little to no interaction with their peers.
“Most younger persons are accustomed hanging out with their friends and persons of their age group to do similar things. And even though we have Facetime and Whatsapp and other things that allow people to still keep in contact, sometimes it’s not the same thing and there is still an element of physicality that is necessary for young persons in their development, so it might have an impact of them,” he told Barbados TODAY.
On the issue of suicide, he stressed: “Suicide is seldom a singular event. It is normally a case where multiple factors come together to bring a person to the point of actually taking their own life… Some people may experience what seems like a small event, but to them, at the point in time it occurs, so many other things may be going on in their life that a seemingly small event might be the one to convince them that life is no longer worth living.
“For young people, there are many factors that go into it including social. We are hoping persons find ways that they can cope, whether it is through interactions with their friends or developing new peer groups through social media. We all, at some point, need to learn to adapt but that is obviously much easier said than done,” the mental health officer added.
Currently, the Psychiatric Hospital offers a 24-hour hotline through its Assessment Unit to provide immediate counselling if possible or to schedule appointments with mental health professionals.
The hospital director however disclosed that the Ministry of Health has been working closely with distinguished Consultant Psychologist Dr. Joy Sue to reactivate the suicide helpline that was once operated by The Samaritans of Barbados.
“Within our programme budget this year, we have laid out a plan toward entering a partnership with a private entity if possible whether it’s the Samaritans our otherwise. That is one of the things that we have laid out to get done so we can have the support in place for persons who need that level of intervention,” Leacock added.
In the meantime, he revealed that requests for mental health assistance are increasing.
“I can’t say we have an increase of 10 per cent or 20 per cent… but we have had at least two or three entities this week alone who are working with certain groups and asking them about their mental health and to a large extent quite a few persons are saying it’s not the best.
“Some are saying it’s quite bad and others are saying they’re down in the dumps. So we are seeing an increase in the number of requests for us to come in and do a Zoom session or at least a programme that can help these persons,” Leacock explained.
At the community level, the hospital director is urging persons, to be more receptive to the challenges facing their family members and friends, particularly with men, who are less likely to discuss their feelings.
“Our societies often limit how we express ourselves and they don’t see us being very manly if we are talking about our issues, so any opportunity that allows for persons to ventilate and say how they are feeling [are welcomed]. But once they do it, somebody must be willing to listen and have an open and frank discussion,” he added.