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Insight: Time We Got Real And Ended The Stigma Of Mental Illness

By TANYA SMITHCARTWRIGHT

tsmith-cartwright@tribunemedia.net

Although the Ministry of Health has tried very hard to lessen the stigma of mental illness, health professionals admit there is a whole lot more to be done to assist those suffering from mental disorders.

Mental health professionals, the world over, have constantly educated their various publics that mental illness is like any other illness.

Medication and or hospitalisation is applicable to those who suffer from symptoms of mental disorders, be those symptoms mild or severe.

Not only does society stigmatise those who suffer from these disorders but many of those who have these conditions stigmatize themselves because of embarrassment and often end up refusing to seek help.

Mental health is important in every stage of life, from childhood and adolescents through to adulthood. If affects how we handle stress, relate to others and make good decisions.

Poor mental health can lead to one being alienated by one’s peers due to perceived unattractive traits or behaviours. Fear, anger, sadness and feelings of helplessness can also set in if a person does not know or understand what is happening to them.

Dr Tracey King, president Bahamas Mental Health Association, speaking with The Tribune said more attention needs to be put on mental health in The Bahamas.

“People are silently suffering because they don’t want to be called ‘crazy’,” Dr King said. “That word is a perpetuation of the stigma. That word fuels the wheel of the stigma.

“In addressing it in this country, it has to be multifaceted and it has to be from the top, straight down to the bottom and encouraging people to make it a priority.

“Even when we talk about the budget and where does money go and you will see more money allotted to physical issues and sometimes mental health is just at the bottom and gets the scrapping.”

Dr King pointed out the importance of good mental health.

“I always say that mental health affects every aspect of our lives,” she said. “It affects how we feel, it affects how we think and it affects how we behave. Those are the three components on how we navigate.

“If we are not doing well emotionally, then the way that we are thinking is affected, the way we feel is affected and the way that we behave is affected. That in itself should highlight the importance of mental health.

“We need to have more and more conversations to dispel these myths; to dispel the misconception. The more conversations we have, the more community education that we have, the more effort that we take to make sure that mental health is inclusive from the schools straight up to businesses and organizations.”

The health official pointed out the lack of mental health facilities in The Bahamas and the need for proper access for those who might need mental help.

“We have one outpatient mental health facility – Community Mental Health and Assessment – on Collins Avenue, compared to the multiple clinics,” Dr. King said. “The access to mental health services on the Family Islands is almost zero.

“When we talk about stigma, it also affects access. This is an approach that needs to be strategic and making sure that these components are addressed. This is not just only resources, but also access.

“Most persons who are maybe struggling, they have one choice for public option. Otherwise they will have to pay for it in private practice. How many people can afford to go private? What happens to people on islands like Mayaguana or Crooked Island? How many of those islands have mental health professionals?”

While she commends the Ministry of Health’s attempt to normalise mental illness, she is asking that the necessary action take place to minimise the stigma it attracts.

“We know that persons who may have severe cases are sent to New Providence for inpatient treatment, but when they are released from that, where is the support after?” she asked. “You are sending them back to an island that has no mental health services.

“This is all wrapped up in the stigma and that’s why I said it’s multifaceted. So I commend the Ministry for its continuation of normalising mental health issues and encouraging persons to say mentally healthy. We just can’t do the awareness and the education.

“We have to do the necessary action to start minimising the stigma and increasing the bridges to access and breaking down the barriers that sustained the stigma itself.”

Dr King also said there is little to no data to support numbers of mentally ill people in The Bahamas or the mental problems they suffer from.

The importance of getting help is paramount if one cannot control their thoughts, feelings or actions.

Not every case of full blown mental illness results in things like people walking the street, undressing publicly or talking to themselves. Sometimes untreated mental illness can end in regrettable tragedy. In most cases, that tragedy could have been prevented with the correct treatment.

Doris McKinney is an administrative assistant who copes with the highs and lows of her mental illness as best she can, knowing she must be responsible for her own mental health.

She spoke to The Tribune explaining her illness and how she copes with it.

“As I said I have my good days and my bad days,” she said. “I was diagnosed many years ago with Manic Depressive Disorder. Nowadays they call it Bipolar Disorder. Unmedicated I can be very low and depressed to the point of contemplating suicide and the next day I can be too happy and or very aggressive.

“I am on medication and for the most part it is controlled. Sometimes I get brain fog and I feel out of it completely. That’s side effects of the medicine. I roll with the punches. It’s very frustrating, but I am mindful that I have a disorder and I have to live with it.

“You’re asking me what’s the worst thing that can happen in my case? Well if I do not take my medicine or follow up with my doctor, I get very aggressive. I won’t intentionally physically harm anyone, but the feeling is overwhelming and if someone gets in my face it may not end well.”

Ms McKinney said the aggression is not frequent and also mentioned what she does when side effects are great.

“That (aggression) has happened a few times since I’ve been diagnosed, but not in recent years at all,” she continued. “I realize I have a disorder and it’s not going away any time soon, so I act like a responsible adult and take my medicine daily and try to cope with the side effects.

“For the most part I live as normal a life as I can. I go to work and perform my duties and if the brain fog or side effects get overwhelming, which they do from time to time, I call in sick and notify my psychiatrist. Sometimes new meds are prescribed or dosages are juggled.”

Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are the more common forms of mental Illness and their prevalence in society appears to be tremendous.

DEPRESSION

Depression is a common and serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how one feels, thinks, and handles daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.

Some forms of depression are slightly different, or they may develop under unique circumstances. Talk Therapy and Prozac are commonly used to treat Depression.

SCHIZOPHRENIA

The mental disorder called Schizophrenia is characterized by disruptions in thought processes, perceptions, emotional responsiveness, and social interactions. Schizophrenia can vary among individuals, is typically persistent and can be both severe and disabling.

The symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, unusual ways of thinking, reduced expression of emotions, reduced motivation to accomplish goals, difficulty in social relationships, motor impairment, and cognitive impairment. Talk Therapy and Risperdal can be used to treat Schizophrenia.

ANXIETY

Those who suffer from Anxiety have feelings of fear, dread, and uneasiness. Anxiety may cause one to sweat, feel restless and tense, and have a rapid heartbeat. To some it is normal to feel anxious when reacting to stress. However, for people with anxiety disorders, the fear is not temporary and can be overwhelming.

The common treatment for Anxiety Talk Therapy and Xanax.

BIPOLAR DISORDER

Bipolar disorder causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs, mania or hypomania and lows as in depression.

Experts say with Bipolar Disorder when one becomes depressed, one may feel sad or hopeless and lose interest or pleasure in most activities. When the mood shifts to mania or hypomania, one may feel euphoric, full of energy or unusually irritable. These moods can affect sleep, energy, activity, judgment, behaviour and the ability to think clearly.

Although bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, one can manage ones mood swings and other symptoms by following a treatment plan of Psychotherapy and or usage of Risperdal.

With all mental illness, if untreated they can advance to one being institutionalised for prescribed periods.

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