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 online mental health directory which connects Caribbean nationals seeking therapy to mental health practitioners of Caribbean descent.

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