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EDITORIAL: Let’s unite on mental health

Barbados Nation

EDITORIAL: Let’s unite on mental health

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GRAPPLING WITH SERIOUS health issues can be unnerving, but there are some afflictions which we still find frightening to deal with, far less accept.

Mental illness is one such disorder, and breaking the silence and effectively dealing with it is still a huge hurdle which this society must overcome.

Barbadians have long viewed mental health issues with scorn. Victims of psychiatric disorders have become outcasts not only in the wider society but in their very own family settings.

So while it is appreciated that many of the patients at the Psychiatric Hospital are well enough that they should no longer be institutionalised, the reality is that there is no safe shelter for them otherwise.

The years of fear and stigmatisation against those with mental issues have become entrenched and will not be erased in weeks, months or even years. It is going to be a long and challenging process. But there is hope and it will require a united effort from the wider society and not just psychiatrists or mental health professionals.

We need to understand that mental illness can affect people in so many ways. It is not only about schizophrenia but also includes those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorders, autism, bipolar disorder and depression. We cannot overlook eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Unfortunately, justice system personnel with whon they often interact are largely untrained and ill-equipped to deal with them.

Challenging goal

We need to bring those affected out of the shadows in which they so often dwell. Admittedly, this will be a hugely challenging even if worthwhile goal.

We must speak as openly about mental health as we do about breast cancer awareness or diabetes. There is an obvious need to have the advocacy groups to lobby the cause as well as the high- profile people who suffer with mental illness to speak publicly about the issue. At the same time, the judicial system, from the police to the courts, must also have a better understanding of mental illness and the best course of response.

It also means the Psychiatric Hospital must not be seen as an abstract place far removed from most of us but as a primary care health facility in need of the same support that is given any other health institution.

So as Christmas approaches when Barbadians are in a spirit of giving, the community groups, the charitable clubs, and individuals should also include the Psychiatric Hospital high on their list of recipients. Corporate Barbados must also give its full support.

Families must do more to embrace their loved ones who suffer from mental illness, even as many of these relatives also suffer with little knowledge of what to do.

We will make this society a better place for all of us to live the sooner we reach out to help.