World Mental Health Day was October 10. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is aimed at heightening awareness of mental health issues and “mobilising efforts in support of mental health day”. The 2023 theme is Mental Health is a Universal Human Right.
Mental health tends to be viewed from the perspective of mental disorders. Individuals displaying certain symptoms can be labelled as ‘mad’, ‘schizo’, ‘crazy’ and ‘tripping off’.
The WHO defines mental health as, “a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community.” It is a “complex continuum” that manifests in varied ways from person to person.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic put the focus on mental health particularly among children. Stressors during this period were: social isolation, death of loved ones, being confined at home with domestic violence and abuse, financial instability and worsening of poverty due to job loss. The effect of the pandemic was seen in school examination results locally and internationally.
In T&T, there are children at present still trying to catch up for the two years in which in-person classes were halted.
The Catholic Education Board of Management must be commended for introducing a two-phase project ‘Addressing Behavioural Problems and Mental Health Issues among Children’, a collaboration with Dr Stafford Pierre of St Ann’s Hospital. It targets principals and teachers equipping them to identify and understand emotional and mental health disorders children display and apply appropriate interventions.
Children going through mental health challenges will not be able to perform at their optimal learning level. Indiscipline and disruptive behaviour at schools may be outward expressions of mental health issues, inner trauma, and pain. There are statistics revealed recently which provide a concerning insight into what else is happening in the country.
At the October 6 ceremonial opening of the 2023-2024 law term, Chief Justice Ivor Archie revealed some disturbing data from the Family Court. The period 2022-2023 saw 9051 new matters filed, of which 3173 related to domestic violence, 2992 were divorces and 1766 for maintenance.
These figures reflect an increase in breakdown of relationships/family and violence in interpersonal relationships since the previous yearly average was about 5500.
Other unsettling data was revealed in June at the launch of the National Family Services Division of the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services 24-hour hotline 800-COPE (2673).
The number of suicides recorded by the TT Police Service has increased exponentially in the past five years. It has moved from double digits, 75 cases 2018, 92 in 2019, to triple: 104 in 2020, 127 in 2021, 142 in 2022.
There were 21 suicide cases reported up to the end of March this year. Since then, other reports would have been added including a 17-year-old boy due to sit the Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate, a 16-year-old girl after an argument with a relative, and a 12-year-old.
There is no need to cite the figures for murders; we are constantly bombarded with the body count in the news.
Research has found a link between trauma and perpetration of violent acts. Trinbagonians have a way of repressing and masking things in humour and escapism through alcohol, partying, sex, and drugs, but it is just a temporary fix. Outbursts and aggression, prolonged withdrawal and despondency may signal mental health challenges.
Behind the data are people and mental health issues.
There are resources available, but the question is: what more needs to be done to address the obstacles that prevent people from getting the help they need? What more can we as Church do?