A little bit in all of us?

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Antigua & Barbuda’s National Health Policy, launched more than two years ago, hardly attracted more than passing interest from residents, but we believe it was a laudable effort given that experts say many people will suffer some form of mental illness at some point in their lives.
Of course, not everyone will be certifiable, but anyone can have a mental breakdown at any point in time. Studies have shown that mental and physical health are fundamentally linked. In other words, our emotions or our mental state of being, many times, affect our physical condition.
Therefore, the responsible thing is to ensure that the status of one’s mental health and physical health are at optimal, since deterioration of one aspect can affect the other.
As mental health expert Dr John Grohol wrote on his website Psych Central: “…Many people still do not ‘get’ that your body’s physical health is interconnected and cannot be separated from your body’s mental health. One affects the other.”
Research, he pointed out, has shown that people with depression, for example, are often in worse physical health as well as worse self-perceived health, than those not suffering from the condition.
People all over the world are affected by a wide range of mental disorders, which often result in their being feared and/or ostracised by others, including their own family members. Some of these diagnoses are obsessive-compulsive disorders, attention deficit disorder, manic depression, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, paranoia, dissociative identity disorder, among others.
Hence, if one suspects that his/her mental health is not up to par, they tend to ignore it, out of fear that seeking help exposes them to the humiliation associated with being afflicted with mental issues. That includes being referred to with the blanket label of “crazy” – a most offensive term.
The link between mental health and physical is usually highlighted on the annual observance of World Mental Health Day on October 10. Last year’s theme was “Dignity in Mental Health – Psychological & Mental Health First Aid for All”, which encourages us to reach out a helping hand of support to affected residents in the same way that we would support the victims of a terrible accident.
Each yearly observance is marked by special awareness activities in countries all over the world, but for many people who suffer from mental illnesses, after the conclusion those events, the sum total of their existence is usually relegated to the resumption of a life of isolation, discrimination, and stigma.
Eradicating the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness is one of the goals of the National Health Policy, a document that was formulated by officials in the Ministry of Health, Clarevue, the World Health Organisation and the Pan American Health Organisation. This policy document was also a means of updating Antigua & Barbuda’s rather “antiquated” mental health laws to bring treatment and care of the illness in line with internationally recognised standards.
As the local Coordinator of the Mental Health Reform Initiative, Clarence Pilgrim said at the launch, the “vision” of the policy is to ensure that Antiguans and Barbudans have access to a mental health system that provides scientifically-based support and treatment, promote mental wellness and recovery from mental health.
All in all, a cursory glance at the policy revealed the primary objectives of the document communicated some well-meaning intentions, mainly to ensure that the population is afforded equitable and quality health care, while putting measures in place for the prevention, early detection, rehabilitation, and the re-integration of patients into the society, with continuity of care.
Another aspect for which the policy deserves high commendation is the fact that developing human resources to effect the provision of service to clients and putting steps in place to protect their human and constitutional rights are given prominence.
All in all, those goals sound very good on paper, but considering that the staff at Clarevue had to resort industrial action to force the government to address “deplorable and unsanitary” working conditions and a range of other longstanding issues, speaks volumes.
Better days are coming this year, though, for the workers and the rest of the populace who may have occasion to seek the services offered at the institution, since Prime Minister Gaston Browne announced in the 2017 Budget Presentation, that Clarevue is in line for a sprucing up.
But given the fact that we can all be afflicted with any form of the disease at any point in time, we sincerely hope that the new National Health Policy, of which we have not heard much recently, has not been left on a shelf somewhere to gather dust, since enlightenment, support and action on the topic of mental health is critical to each and everyone of us.

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