Clinical psychologist weighs in on current state of mental health sector

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By Carlena Knight

With the country recording its third suspected suicide in a little over two weeks, many have been grappling with the question of what can be done.

One clinical psychologist, Regina Apparicio, has sought to answer that question in the hope that   the mental health sector here in the country will improve.

Apparicio noted that indeed it ‘takes a whole village’ if this matter is to truly be addressed in a significant way.

She believes that the time has come for persons to move away from this taboo that mental health deals with persons who are crazy, and increase discussions on the issue which she says should be classed alongside any other health condition.

“A lot of times, when persons hear about mental health, they think about it from the standpoint that the individual is crazy and not necessarily that mental health is really just to be seen in the same light as physical health and well-being. Just like we have cancer, diabetes, hypertension and the like, we have a wide variety of mental health concerns or conditions that exist. Some individuals are able to function adequately with it, with very little distress, and for others that is not the case,” Apparicio said.

She has given credit to some persons who have begun having these discussions, but she added that a lot more progress can be made.

Apparicio has suggested that these discussions need to also be taking place at the school level and believes that a larger database needs to be drafted into the schools’ curriculum to teach youth the correct coping skills to deal with their emotions.

“Individuals often times are affected by their inability to manage their emotions and to perform well as a result. So, if we can incorporate aspects of that into the education system that would be so helpful, so that our children now have the understanding of how to navigate their social interactions. How, when you go to an interview you are able to remain calm under pressure and to allow your thoughts to flow adequately. How, when you find yourself in an argument, you are able to manage your anger so it doesn’t escalate to the point of injury,” Apparicio explained.

She added that there is no provision for persons after finishing high school who may be interested in venturing into this field. This, she revealed, makes it very difficult to get access to funding in this subject area as it is not marqueed as one of the priority areas.

This, she further explained, leads to a significant issue in the manpower trained to offer services to those in need.

“You may have a few counselors and therapists here and there, but we would be in a better position if persons could access specialized training for the issues that are popping up,” she added.

The limited availability of free services to the public is another area Apparicio touched on.

 She says that while persons may be able to identify that they need professional assistance, they are deterred by the cost.

She suggested that, much like in other countries, insurance companies could cover the cost if not fully, at least partially.

Where sick days are concerned, Apparicio proposed that legislation should be set, much like with other illnesses, that allow for persons to take sick days from work if they are feeling overwhelmed.

 Expanded programs within the Social Transformation Department were also suggested.

“Sometimes persons need to use sick days, not because of a physical issue, but there are times when an individual is significantly overwhelmed and stressed to the point that they simply cannot function. An individual should be able to take a letter from a therapist to indicate a diagnosis, and this is the issue that they are having in order to take sick leave. We need to begin as a society to recognise mental health days or mental health breaks that individuals can claim under their sick days, without feeling like if they are being dishonest with an employer,” she mentioned.

The medical practitioner went on to state that there needs to be a mental health professional attached to several government and private areas to include the prison and community clinics as this will help in the rehabilitation of prisoners as well as the ordinary citizen who may be dealing with some major mental health issues.

“Just like how an individual would go to the clinic for their physical health concerns, an individual should be able to go to a public clinic and see a therapist because sometimes the physical issues that a person is experiencing are often times the result of stress. We have a few urgent care facilities on the island, and none of them are equipped with any sort of mental health professional,” Apparicio stated.

She admitted that due to the pandemic, persons’ stress levels are at an all time high, but noted that this could just be part of a bigger issue as there are many causes to push someone to take his or her own life.

She is encouraging persons who may be battling with depression and other mental health issues to reach out to a friend, family member, medical professional, the church or even the Social Transformation Department.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, feel free to contact the Family and Social Services Division for help on 562-5669.

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