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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Two important issues

Dr Frances Chandler, [email protected]

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Two important issues

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IT’S GOOD TO KNOW that increased attention is being paid to two important issues which seem to have been “swept under the carpet” for too long – mental health and domestic violence/child abuse. But we’re not alone. I’ve been visiting Canada for the past 46 years and consider that country to be the epitome of everything that’s good, so I was surprised to learn that in the area of acceptance of people with mental health issues, they don’t seem to be that much ahead of us in the Caribbean.

Where physical challenges are concerned, we’ve made great progress in recent years. We’ve had a blind Government Senator and now the President of our Senate is also blind. In our private sector, we’re seeing more companies hiring differently abled people who are doing good jobs.

Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the same thrust in the case of people with mental health problems, although our former Minister of Health promised to improve this situation two years ago.

Mental health issues are basically no different from physical challenges, except that the symptoms are not so obvious. Logically, these people should be given a similar chance to reach their full potential.

Perhaps we should start by de-stigmatising mental illness. Why can’t we have a mental health department just like we have a radiotherapy department or an obstetrics unit in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to replace the archaic Psychiatric Hospital, which has such negative connotations.

Types of mental illness

Not all those suffering from mental illness have “fried” their brains through using illicit drugs. There are many types of mental illness – like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and so on. As Dr Dahlia Gibson, senior psychiatrist at the Psychiatric Hospital, noted some time ago, financial problems can also be a source of stress and mental illness.

Many people suffering from mental illness are well educated and possess great talent, but just need to be given an environment in which they can operate comfortably. I’m quite sure that certain allowances are made for people with physical challenges, so too should this be done for those with mental illnesses. If there is no understanding or acceptance of mental illness by employers, those affected will tend to hide their illness when interviewed for jobs, but when put under stressful conditions, they cannot cope and are then dismissed.

As the then Minister of Health Donville Inniss, speaking on the National Strategic Mental Health Plan in 2013, noted, the right to employment is a fundamental privilege that should be afforded to all. In fact employment would be therapy for those with mental issues, bolstering their confidence and self-esteem.

The Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry is encouraged to implement pilot employment programmes for those with mental illness, with monitoring systems in place to enable improvements as necessary. Government could play its part by giving incentives for such programmes. Let’s make sure that the increased emphasis on this issue is translated into positive action to bring about the required result.

With the increase in domestic violence, especially child abuse, the recent introduction of the act to amend the Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act, Cap. 130A to “define domestic violence and to make greater provision for the safety of victims of domestic violence and the accountability of perpetrators of domestic violence” is welcomed.

In the past it seemed as if the police had a “hands off” approach to domestic situations, but as Liesel Daisley, founder and chairman of the Save Foundation, is quoted as saying: “I think it’s a very good thing to give more power to the police and it will execute things a lot faster . . . being able to prevent it is much better than having the police come and throw the white sheet over the body . . . .”

The bureaucracy needs to be taken out of these matters and a more humane approach taken by the relevant institutions. I’m sure that the public still has many unanswered questions for the Child Care Board regarding the deaths of the three young children last year. I could be wrong, but I don’t recall seeing the report from the board which was promised by Minister Blackett or any conclusions reached by the police, the Coroner’s office or the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Quick action and not bureaucratic bungling is of the essence in these situations. Too many lives have been lost due to lack of an urgent response.

Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator. Email [email protected]

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