Oct 21, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News – Guyanese clinical psychotherapist and author, Mr. Shane Mark Tull, refocused our attention to the elephant in our midst. It is one that has long been ignored in the local environment, given the longstanding cultural contempt with which it has been viewed. It is of mental health realities in the local sphere, now made worse by the stresses of the global pandemic, and which calls for urgent discernment and attention. This is required, to avoid having more Guyanese pushed over the edge by depression, or other clinical conditions that make for a wretched and dangerous existence and for us to be less of bystanders and more of helpers.
The mental health elephant in Guyana is a baby, but one that is growing rapidly, one which we mostly dismiss, because we think it is beyond us, even below us and, hence, outside the scope of our interests. Even today, we are largely impatient and ignorant of what is involved in the psychoses and delusions that hamper individuals and families, and with little by way of a local support system. We are aloof and keep a distance from what could be the first signs of mental health illness in loved ones, friends, neighbours, or colleagues. Our leaders should not be exempt, since mental health has no boundaries. In a less correct era, many delighted in speaking about obvious mental health situations in such scornful terms as ‘off his rocker’ or ‘lost his marbles’. In Guyanese lingo, the description is that ‘he head ain’t good’. The issue is, no matter how dressed up, we have some seriously mentally ill people around today, some of whom roam our streets, and our other crowded places of everyday social interaction.
We no longer speak about ‘mad’ or ‘retarded’ people, but of the mentally challenged or mentally impaired. Never-the-less, the fact remains that we have sick people in our midst, and severely so, when mental health is considered. The stresses of the global pandemic, one which is stubborn, of many mutations, hard to overcome, and still mysterious in understanding, have only added to what were torturous demands of Guyanese life.
How to manage with what is in hand became extremely difficult. This was then intensified by having the little in hand taken away by job closures, and restrictions in movement. When adults can’t manage their homes with dignity, the walls close in, and the mental systems in frailer persons rupture. In other words, what was present and stirring before (unknown) inside a person at a low level suddenly needed to find an outlet for escape before full-fledged explosions occur, such as depression, violence against self or others, the despair that makes one not care anymore.
Being limited to indoors for extended time periods with little to do, but reflect on the poverty of one’s circumstances, wreaked havoc on the fragile mental systems of those known to be vulnerable. Having fewer prospects makes a bitter pill even more unpalatable, with people crumbling; substances, partners, and circumstances could mean a toxic stew. Some we see on the streets, others we read about in the news – suicide. Or to sum up: they just couldn’t take it anymore, this combination of a demanding life made unbearable by the pandemic.
We must teach ourselves as to what this means. Second, what does it look like in other persons, then take it to its final conclusion, which is how to recognise it in ourselves. When we seek to familiarise ourselves with what mental health is about, the forms in which it can be near to us, or even in us, then we would have positioned ourselves to view it – as more than abstract concept, or something left to medical professionals.
Discernment empowers us to contribute to the supporting healing process, the delicate continuous steps that are involved, and to look upon others differently. Regarding the latter, this has reference to those huddled on the streets, or talking to themselves, or posing a danger to both themselves and others. When we can come to appreciate mental health in numerous appearances, we know what we have to do, and to be thankful for our own state. We must not ignore the mental health elephant in the room anymore.
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