ALICIA WALLACE: You are not alone, reach out for help


Alicia Wallace


MAY is Mental Health Awareness Month and it meets us at a time of frequent suicide and attempted suicide reports.

Death by suicide is tragic. It is an indication that the deceased saw no other way to get past whatever they were struggling with, whether or not they shared it with anyone else. Sometimes it seems impossible to share struggles with loved ones. We want them to see us as they have always seen us — strong and capable — or we want to be seen outside of the assumptions of youthful ignorance or irresponsible behaviour.

We are all trying to present a certain image of ourselves, and people are constantly imposing their own perceptions onto us, and this can be a barrier to seeking support. It is unhelpful and unnecessary to blame anyone for this. We all have work to do to build an environment in which everyone can speak openly about mental health challenges and the conditions that directly affect our mental wellbeing, and to ask for help.

People who have survived suicide attempts and have since accessed support mechanisms talk about the fact that most people (or no people) knew what they were going through. It is important that we do not make assumptions about people and the details of their lives. We have to be careful in our speech, particularly about people who are struggling and about mental health.

Anxiety and depression are more common than most people think, and while some people are able to manage without medication, there are many people who need medication not only to function day to day, but to survive.

The way we engage in public discourse matters. The way we talk about the news, talk about people, and talk about situations with family members, friends, co-workers, and others within our circles also matters. People not only hear what we say, but pick up on the assumption and biases embedded in our speech. It seems to be much more common to speak with criticism and disdain than it is to speak with love and support.

We can all benefit from learning more about mental health, the services and service providers in The Bahamas, the gaps that exist, and how they can be filled. We should be able to refer people to therapists. We should be able to understand when someone says they do not want to speak with a pastor or other religious person who is a “counsellor”, but want to speak with someone who has studied at the university level and been specifically trained to provide mental health support. We have to know that prayer, while it may be helpful or a source of comfort for some, is not enough. There is more to be done.

When we know more, we can do more. For those who need to be connected with a therapist and do not want it to be a Bahamian, there are various services available online that match clients with therapists. Video appointments and 24-hour text messaging are among the options. Cost continues to be a barrier, and this is one area that needs significant attention and intervention.

What can we do for ourselves and each other?

We often underestimate the impact that our physical health and environment have on our mental health. There are times when we do not feel well, without being able to identify a physical symptom, or we are unable to concentrate, have lower-than-usual tolerance for everyday occurrences, or have a dip in mood. We may brush it off, recognising it as a “bad day” or push ourselves through it to complete our to-do lists, but this does not help in the long run.

It can help to take a few minutes to determine what is happening in our bodies. There is sometimes a quick fix, or a lesson to learn that we can apply regularly to avoid a repeat of the situation. When we feel out of sorts, we can ask ourselves:

• Have I eaten anything today? If so, was it a balanced meal?

• Am I properly hydrated? What have I had to drink today? How much water have I had today?

• Have I been outside yet today? Have I felt the sun on my skin? Have I taken deep breaths in fresh air?

• What time did I go to sleep last night? Did I get enough sleep? Was it restful? Was it uninterrupted? What was I doing right before I fell asleep, and could it have impacted the quality of my sleep?

• Have I had any pleasant interactions today? Have I laughed, or even smiled, today? What was the last thing to make me feel good?

• How is my environment contributing to the way I feel? Is my chair comfortable? Is my desk at the right height? Am I dressed appropriately for my activities today?

• Have I moved my body in ways that increase blood flow today? How much walking have I done today? How much sitting have I done today? Do I need to move around more, or do I need to take time to rest?

We can use the same questions to check in with people around us who are having a difficult time. When we identify the root causes, we can take action to address them in the short term and to avoid the issue in the future. Haven’t eaten all day? Get a well-balanced meal and give the body time to catch up. Haven’t had fresh air in several hours? Go outside and find a comfortable space to sit or stand, if only for five minutes. It can help to put a hand on the chest or belly to feel the breath move through it with every inhale and exhale.

When there is no quick fix, it is important to be able to refer to a mental health toolbox. This, of course, requires us to develop these toolboxes for ourselves and ensure that they are accessible in times of crisis. The mental health toolbox can include:

• The names of five people, with contact information, who can provide support. These should be friends and loved ones who are likely to pick up the phone when you call and/or answer the door when you knock. They should know, before they are needed, that they are being put on your list. Their role is to listen to you, affirm you, offer advice if asked, and encourage you to take further steps as needed.

• A note for you, by you, that reminds you of some of the things that you are good at, the challenges that you have overcome, the accomplishments you have had, the great people in your life, and that there is better ahead.

• And items that you find comforting, encouraging, grounding, or otherwise brings you to a good place because of the memories it evokes or the meaning that it holds for you.

• A few of your favourite things, like puzzles, snacks, books, and games that can give you something to do rather than focusing on anything that you cannot control.

• A mental health professional who can have a session with you, allowing you to explain what is happening, share your feelings, and state your needs. This person can help you to name the issues and develop a plan to deal with them in healthy, effective ways.

• Affirmations that you can read, write, and/or say aloud to remind yourself who and what you are, what you are capable of doing, and the shape your life is going to take.

• A journal to record the events that lead up to the moment that you need to reach for your toolbox. It is a space for you to feel free to be completely honest and not use a filter at all. This could also be a helpful resource when you meet with a mental health professional, especially since it can be difficult to remember details and name feelings when some time has passed.

• Candles, incense, or other scented material that you find soothing so you can create a pleasant sensory experience for yourself.

• Moisturiser, body butter, or massage oil to treat yourself to a self-administered massage. It may be surprising how much better you feel after moisturising your arms, massaging your neck, or rubbing your feet. It may be even nicer if the body products are in one of your favourite scents.

When self-assessment and our own resources do not yield sufficient results, we need to seek professional help. Bahamas Psychological Association continues to operate help lines for those who need to speak with a mental health professional. Call 812-0576 or 816-3799 for assistance in English. For children and adolescents, the number is 819-7652. For those who need to speak with someone in Creole, call 454-2993.


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