Mental health and Bahamians
Published: May 21, 2013
Have you ever noticed how easy it is for total strangers to acknowledge that they have migraine headaches, or are being treated for high blood pressure? Contrast that with discussions about mental health issues — somehow, we all have the idea that talking about mental health is completely off-limits. We are afraid to think about it sometimes, let alone discuss it or seek necessary treatment.
A study done in 2008 questioned African Americans being treated for depression about reasons why they tend to underuse mental health services. The most frequent response was stigma, but shame and denial were also among the top factors listed. That is not likely significantly different for Bahamians. The question is though, how long are we willing to suffer in silence ourselves, or to permit our family members to suffer needlessly?
Deep down inside, you suspect that refusing to get help when you know that something is not quite right only prolongs the agony for everyone, and increases the likelihood of a poor outcome, such as suicide or other dangerous behaviors. Family members of people with emotional problems do themselves a disservice when they fail to talk about the struggle because then they are cut off from the amazing support and understanding of countless others who are walking the same walk. The better we can deal with mental illness as family members, the stronger and healthier we can be for ourselves and for our families.
In terms of the basics of mental illnesses, among the most common is depression. This involves a pervasive feeling of sadness for weeks at a time, with associated sleep and weight/appetite changes, as well as difficulty concentrating or making decisions. Many people — especially the elderly — experience it as feeling constantly tired and even physically ill, with frequently unexplained aches and pains. They might start to isolate from friends and family, and start being more careless about the way that they carry themselves, perhaps not dressing so well or attending to shaving or neatly grooming their hair. At its worst, depression can also lead to thoughts about wanting to die, or about killing oneself. If someone you love should express such thoughts to you, it is important that they not be left alone, that any means to harm themselves is made unavailable if possible (pills, guns etc.), and that they receive immediate professional help.
Summarily, if you are reading this article, and recognize yourself or repeatedly think of someone you love as you read it, I would encourage you to get help for yourself or that person. We know that mental illnesses exists among us; the good news is that they can be treated successfully. The health of our minds is just as important as the health of our bodies. It is time for us to take charge of both. If you need help, call the National Suicide Hotline at (242) 322-2763.
• Juandalyn Peters, M.D. is a board-certified adult and pediatric psychiatrist in private practice in Davie, Florida. She is author of the recently published book “How to Stop a Suicide”.