THE MENTAL HEALTH OF CARIBBEAN PEOPLE

She sat on the couch, this young sixteen-year-old girl.  She was in tears.  Her struggles with severe depression were evident in the deep look of despondence on her face and the droop of her shoulders.  But even more so, she spoke of it.  “I don’t feel like talking to anyone or going anywhere.  I just stay in my room.  It’s where a feel comfortable.”  She cried for help which is how she ended up on my couch.  She desperately neededsomeone to hear her…to help her.  I wanted to help her, and I would, if her parents’ stigma against mental illness was not standing in the way.  I watched helplessly as her parents walked her out of the room saying, “why can’t you just drink some tea and feel better?”  Within a month, this child had attempted suicide…

As Caribbean people we are proud.  We are strong.  We are resilient. Regardless of which island in the Caribbean you are from, there is a sense of innate ability to overcome all obstacles that are placed in our paths.  Maybe it is a feeling left over from the days when our forefathers fought for their freedom as they were brought in from other parts of the world to these islands.  Maybe it is a knowledge that with all that we have gone through, we still stand, and we continue to move forward.  However, years of struggle can and will eventually take its toll.  If not physically, then for sure, mentally.Although mental illness has been in and around the Caribbean for decades, it has largely been swept under the rug, with victims of mental illness being characterized as “mad men” and “mad women”.  People afflicted with mental illness were locked away by family members who were ashamed of them and ostracized by community members who looked at them asoutcasts to be mocked or abused.  Typically, these were individuals who might have been diagnosed with mental illnesses such as Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder and whose behaviors were regarded as strange and different.  Talk therapy was non-existent and psychiatry was for the wealthy.  Medication was not even a consideration as you only give medicine to those with actual medical conditions.  Mental illness was not considered a medical condition.  That was then…or is it?Though there are many within the Caribbean community, both in the Caribbean and around the world, who have become moreopen minded about addressing mental illness, there are still those who harbor old fears of being labeled as being “mad”.  As a result, they cling to the beliefs that using herbal remedies (drinking tea) and prayer is enough to help them feel better.  While the benefits of herbal medicine can be helpful and prayer as part of your belief system is a definite plus, sometimes the struggles that one afflicted with mental illness experiences requires more.  In recent years there has been a shift as the younger generations(Generation X, Millennial and Generation Z) have begun to look at therapy as a necessity if not a status symbol.  Celebrities, in the United States in particular, have made it “trendy” for one to have a therapist (like having a nail tech and a stylist).  For others, the toll of issues within our society have made it a necessity.  Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, racial andpolitical tension on top of the general daily financial, employment, relationship, parenting and educational stressors has created a high demand for mental health services. However, even with this shift, many still struggle with the notion of going to therapy and taking medication if needed.  Therapy is designed to help you find a solution to what ever you are struggling with.  If a solution is not available, then it helps you to navigate the issue in such a way as to allow you to live as normally as possible.  Medication is necessary if your condition involves a chemical imbalance that requires more than just talk therapy and behavioral changes to bring about relief.  If you are struggling, and have been struggling, for more than 6 months with the same symptoms (erratic mood swings, unjustifiable anger, loss or increase in appetite, sleeping too much or not enough, unexplained crying, inability to care for yourself daily – bathing, combing your hair, brushing your teeth) that significantly interferes with your normal daily life functions, please reach out to a therapist for help.  There is one out there that is the right fit for you.Shari N. Warner, JD, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and licensed Attorney in the state of Florida.  Mrs. Warner is the CEO and Clinical Director of Serendipity Counseling and Consulting, LLC, Founder and President of The Serendipity Women’s Mental Wellness Foundation, Inc. a non-profit mental health organization, and creator of the CaribbeanTherapy.com online mental health directory which connects Caribbean nationals seeking therapy to mental health practitioners of Caribbean descent.

SHERYL-ANN MARSHALL

Thanks for joining me here on my endearing quest to awaken those minds and hearts of ours….Let us talk about Lent.Lent is important in Trinidad and Tobago.  We take this season just as respectfully as we do the Carnival season. Feting is usually forbidden.  Believe it or not!  These forty days represent the time that Jesus spent in the wilderness during his endurance of Satan’s temptations.  It is how we repent after the dutiful sins of Carnival.  I say “dutiful” because of the way we FEEL THE MUSIC. It is nothing short of compelling! We gyrate these hips with a provocation that cannot be explained because it is a mere AUTOMATIC REACTION.  Nothing more.  Our waistline works like magic that is alluring, to put it mildly.  It is almost sinful, if you ask me.  But if we take the time to dissect “sinful”?  Uuuuh…that would be a whole other blog!

In my family, we take Lent seriously by sacrificing the things that we truly love.  For instance, I love to drink various types of alcoholic beverages and I tend to devour any type of meat at a very gullible pace. Therefore, in my past, I have sacrificed both.  Not an easy task!  I am not the only one.  This is a common trinitrait.We follow this tradition because of religion.  It is what we were taught from since we were young … (Yes, I am getting old now!) lol.  Lent is the fasting period before Easter excluding Sundays…depending on the varying beliefs. From my family’s aspect, it starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Saturday before Easter Sunday. I believe it stems from the religion we all know as “Roman Catholic”. We attend a (religious) mas to receive the ash on our foreheads to initiate the process.  I have given my two children that foundation; however, as they begin adulting I respect that they will follow beliefs and values of their own accord, hopefully ones that they would give the due diligence of attention. Lent is a time to repent! It is a huge part of every year, and there are others that do not celebrate or abide to this time of year…but WE LIVE it.  We thrive it!  We give it!  It takes discipline. It is a season of fasting and repentance.  It is a time we use to self-observe.  A time for moderation…where we choose to exercise control over the many things we believe we have no control over. I have given something as opposed to giving up something…It is a sacrifice either way.  Pick your poison…if that is how you look at it. 

Instead of worrying, give it to The Man Above.Instead of thinking selfishly, give attention to the people around you.Instead of holding a grudge, give those allowances to live and let live.Instead of giving in to your short temper, give the virtue of patience.Instead of holding sorrow in that heart, give thanks for everything you already have.…I can go on and on…Seek the sacrifices!  They are there to behold.  It makes you feel good, they say.  Ok then…well…FYI…Everything that kills me makes me feel alive…Sooooo…Uuuuuh…You guys know that song.  Anyway, ah gone.  Peace out!P.S.  I have toyed with the idea of giving up cursing but that is a HUGE sacrifice.  Why?  Well, let us just say Friday is my second favorite “F” word.  Additionally, some say to give up soca music, but I know my limits.  (smile).A couple more trini words you should get accustomed to since I may be using them in future blogs….Feting – Partying.  Entertaining with a party.  Ah – I or I am.Ciao for now and take good care…Sheryl–Ann Marshall. (Red Wine)