Making Mental Health a Priority in Guyana
Author: Malika Singh
“My Mental Health Matters!” was among the loudest chants at the Glow for Mental Health Walk that took place on Saturday, October 15th, 2022. It was one of the many activities that were planned as part of an awareness campaign in observance of mental health awareness day. The activities were spearheaded by Desert Flower, a local group in Guyana with support from the Ministry of Health, United Nations bodies, and civil society groups. The awareness walk attracted over two hundred persons of all ages. As we closed off October, it is a good time to pause and reflect on the current realities of mental health in Guyana.
World Mental Health Day is internationally recognized on October 10 each year, signified by the wearing of a green ribbon. The term “mental health”, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), refers to the “state of well-being in which the individual realises their abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and can contribute to his or her community”. One’s state of well-being, whether emotional, physical or social, can be adversely affected by various factors. In similar terms, mental health can be defined as part of the overall well-being of an individual.
World Mental Health Day serves to raise awareness and encourage advocacy of mental illnesses worldwide. One in eight people experiences some form of mental illness. This was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused a 25% increase in persons with depression and anxiety. Young people are especially afflicted. According to the UK Mental Health Foundation, half of the mental health conditions are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24. Mental illness disrupts an individual’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis. Moreso, there is stigma and shame surrounding seeking treatment. However, recovery and/or management are possible with adequate resources.
Undoubtedly, the awareness activities planned in Guyana for this year were bigger and more inclusive than in previous years. For those living in Guyana, we are aware of the stigma that comes with mental health, and despite our small population being ranked among the highest suicide rates in the country. In addition to the awareness activities, there has been ongoing development with both government, and community groups pushing for better access to mental health services through the recent passage of the Mental Health Protection and Promotion Bill which aims to make mental health services more accessible to persons in all regions of Guyana.
At the community level, Tamukke Feminist, a local Guyanese group is currently supporting over 40 women through financial support to access therapy services through their Mind Fund Initiative.
“Persons have been able to deal with their situations and for all of them it has been life-changing and they are trying to prioritise self-care. Persons have been grateful for the support, they would not be able to access therapy services without the financial support.”
Amy Yong- Representative at Tamukke Feminists
Within this past year, we continue to learn about various mental health-related topics through “Unboxed” an ongoing initiative that is hosted by Psychiatrist, Dr. Indhira Harry that aims to start the conversation around various topics relating to mental health. Dr. Harry has covered the issues, and also provided solutions. Her platform serves to encourage further discussion on the various topics that intersect with mental health.
Guyanese also benefited from a week-long training on suicide prevention and gatekeeping workshop series hosted virtually by William James College in July 2022. Furthermore, following up from last year’s Guyana’s Well being Conference, this year, the conference will take place on November 15th- 18th, 2022.
In our intersectional approach to our work, it is necessary to understand and unpack the impacts of the current climate crisis and its impacts on people. There have been recorded rates of Eco Anxiety, especially among young people. Climate change affects one’s mental health. This phenomenon could be explained by the biophilia hypothesis which states that humans are innately connected to their natural surroundings and receive psychological benefits from such. When this connection is altered due to the loss of familiar places, persons may experience what is termed as “ecological grief”. Eco anxiety cannot be officially diagnosed but self-reported symptoms include panic attacks, obsessive thinking, and insomnia. This form of anxiety either propels persons to act in concern for climate change or sometimes distresses persons to the point where they are paralyzed and unable to act.
To manage our mental health, including eco-anxiety, we can engage in simple practices such as deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness. Talking to friends and families about our feelings can be beneficial. Exercise and yoga are also recommended to maintain one’s mental health as they release endorphins and serotonin in the brain which improve moods. There are further therapeutic measurements that are also utilised. This includes Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and talk therapy. CBT involves learning evidence-based techniques to cope with feelings of stress or anxiety as they are experienced. Medications can also be prescribed to improve one’s everyday functioning when living with a mental illness. For local mental health services, refer to The Breadfruit Collective’s website.
This year’s theme for World Mental Health Day, “Make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority”, serves as an apt reminder that mental health problems affect everyone and efforts to reduce mental ill-health should be prioritised. However, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there is a treatment gap of more than 70% in many countries. That stark percentage indicates a need for more action. This includes not only policy changes in line with human rights but accessible counseling, programs against child abuse and domestic violence, life skill courses, and suitable job opportunities. Advocacy concerning mental illnesses also plays a role in emphasising the importance of the cause. To achieve these goals, there must be deepened commitment by all to improving the state of the world’s mental health.
Department of Information https://dpi.gov.gy/mental-health-bill-2022-passed/
Department of Information https://dpi.gov.gy/guyanese-to-benefit-from-better-access-to-mental-health-services/
Mental Health Foundation. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/public-engagement/world-mental-health-day
Pan American Health Organization. https://www.paho.org/en/topics/mental-health
Medical and Life Sciences News. https://www.news-medical.net/news/20221010/World-Mental-Health-Day-2022-Mental-Health-for-All.aspx