Today, I join the world in acknowledging World Mental Health Day.
Mental health and the advocacy for its awareness remains a cause close to my heart as a person who was diagnosed with and suffers from Bipolar II Disorder and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD).
I first publicly admitted to having the disorder in the article I wrote on the LGBTQ social issue. There are few things in this world I am afraid to publicly address, but mental illness has always been a taboo topic for me because of the attached stigma.
Black People and Mental Illness
Mental illness remains a taboo subject among the Bajan population, and to a wider extent the black community. We have all heard the phrase, “black people don’t go to therapy, we go to church.” Today, mental illness continues to take the passenger seat to physical illness despite being just as devastating and deadly.
I would not have been brave enough to talk about my mental illness had it not been for an old friend who started a blog chronicling her struggle with depression. I recall the shock I experienced when she made the revelation via social media last year; I had no idea she was going through this. Many didn’t. She has the brightest smile and is one of the most beautiful souls you will ever meet. But mental illness doesn’t have a ‘look’.
She was there for me last year when I had a mental breakdown, all the while fighting her own demons of depression silently.
But that’s what many are forced to do; suffer in silence. Society does not allow a space for its members to have an open and honest conversation about mental health. There’s a space for breast cancer awareness though. There’s a pride parade, and while I am not attempting to invalidate the importance and relevance of these other diseases, since they all affect otherwise wholesome members of our society, I am calling for a level playing field.
For all types of illnesses to be given equal acknowledgement, awareness and education efforts, public sensitisation campaigns, as well as the provision of the necessary PROPER public medical facilities for those who are unable to afford private treatment.
Importance of Mental Health Awareness
The brain is the most powerful organ of the body. If it is defected in any way, then that individual goes from being neurotypical to having a mental disorder. Neurotypicals need to have a greater understanding, and more empathy towards those whose brains do not function the same as theirs. That is what being mentally ill means; your brain functions differently. You react to situations differently. A person with a neurotypical brain and one with a mental illness will face the same situation but have two very different responses.
Those who battle with mental illness are often marginalised and ostracised not only at the society level but within their families. Where there should be understanding, there is dissent. Where there should be tolerance there is indifference and discrimination. That is to say, mental illness has a bad reputation because of the attached stigma.
What policies do the government have in place to ensure that the members who make up the public sector are of sound mental health? What does the private sector have in place for their workers? Are employees allowed to take mental days, and refer to it as such?
Do you know how many of your employees are silently suffering from mental illness? It is not so silent when it is shown in the work they produce. When their work ethic dwindles, especially if the workplace reeks of toxicity. When that employee who was once chipper with the biggest smile in the office has now become distant and despondent, but shrugs it off with a faint forced smile every day because “yuh int to bring yuh problems from home to work”.
Then there are the companies who actively discriminate against candidates with mental illness and refuse to hire them despite the individual being more than competent and qualified for the job.
Impact of Toxic Work Environment
Each mental illness is unique, although some share similar characteristics, specifically borderline personality disorder (BPD) and bipolar disorder, and will manifest in each person differently.
One in four people in the world will suffer from a mental disease during their lifetime. Take a look around your office; see anyone acting, in Bajan parlance, “like a madman?” Many of us are high-functioning, productive members in society. Many lead stellar professional lives, but personal lives are in turmoil because of mental illness.
But how accommodating is the workplace to people who suffer from depression, BPD, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other mental illnesses? Productivity in the workplace can slow to a crawl because the people who run and maintain these entities are not taking care of their mental health.
What mechanisms are embedded in the education system to facilitate students who are struggling with mental illnesses?
Do not tell me guidance counsellors because it has been proven that majority of them are ineffective and do not subscribe to the notion of doctor-patient confidentiality, and I know for a fact that many of them divulge the students’ business to other staff members in the staff rooms. Or will the modus operandi of hauling these children to the Psychiatric hospital or before a magistrate who will then assign them to a probation officer or the Juvenile Liaison Scheme remain?
How successful have these methods been? Where is the data? I am particularly interested in how effective these entities are in saving our youth. What is the success rate in ‘turning around’ these kids?
As a nation we are currently facing giant economic woes, and with the recent draconian measures taken by the government, Bajans are finding it even more difficult to make ends meet. Stressors such as this can trigger depression and incite other mental disorders such as dissociating, where people do not want to deal with their reality because of its harshness.
Recognising Mental Illness
Young girls, and boys, are running away because of the mental abuse stemming from molestation, negligence, invalidation, et.al, that they are subjected to at home. Apart from genetics, this is the main component in the development of mental illnesses such as BPD, C-PTSD, narcissistic personality disorder and others. We have schoolgirls who are reported missing weekly, some are repeat ‘offenders’, and as a society it appears we cannot get to the root of the problem.
Men, when your girlfriend or the woman you are courting flies off the handle at the slightest perceived offense, becomes paranoid that you may leave her, is loving to you one minute then the next she throws a tantrum then back to being loving, and these unstable mood swings occur frequently, is she really just being a “bitch” and “drama queen”? Perhaps she has a mental illness; these are some of the symptoms of BPD.
Your friend who at one point is always in the mood to go out and party, then the next she doesn’t feel like going anywhere and that mood extends to her professional life where she doesn’t even have the energy to get out of bed and go to work, is she just being lazy and “bummy” or does she suffer from depression?
The teenage girl who is being combative with her parents, skipping school, cutting her wrist, is she just “hardears and womanish”, “looking fuh man”, and “seeking attention”? Or is that a cry for help? What is her mental health like? Parents, have you checked?
Seek Help: Go to Therapy
Bajans are a reactive people. We wait too long to address issues, leaving it time to fester and grow to the magnitude of a pressing social issue. I know I definitely took too long in seeking psychotherapy for my mental illness. As a society we need to become proactive; nip these issues in the bud lest they become unmanageable.
Going to therapy is not a “white people thing”. It is a step responsible people take to undergo treatment so that they may heal, and improve the quality of their life. If you break your leg, you go to physical therapy to recover. And if like me someone breaks your psyche, you go to psychotherapy to recover.