Friday, April 19, 2024

Healthy minds matter

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“We have to think about mental health in the same way as our physical health.”
Dr Donna-Maria Maynard, PhD, who is the president of the Psychology Association of Barbados and a lecturer in clinical and counselling psychology at the University of the West Indies, is on a mission to get Barbadians to really look after their mental and emotional health, especially in terms of coping with the difficulties that life often throws up.
“In Barbados, psychology is still very young, but I realize that Caribbean people are very resilient,” she says. “When you think of things that happen across the Caribbean like natural disasters and even the HIV/AIDS crisis, people have managed quite well.”
Maynard, who says she doesn’t want Barbados to be shaken by the recent spate of suicides, feels that the level of family support in some home environments may be a problem, especially for younger people because of migration or grandparents working outside of the home.
“I’m sure that if you looked at the history of these individual cases you’d find evidence of some discontent, some depression leading up to that point,” she added.
While Maynard acknowledges that Barbadians typically shunned psychologists in the past, she sees it as a trend that is changing.
“Traditionally, when people experience problems they tend to run to their friends, their pastor,” she said. “Now we’re introducing this mental health care, but it is new. With counselling and psychotherapy, the relationship is built on trust, but Barbadians have a difficult time with trust as a people.
“But I always tell my students . . . that we have to maintain our mental health in the same way that we maintain our physical health. While we go to the gym and eat right as undertaking preventative measures, counselling and psychotherapy should be seen in that light as well. There’s not everything in life that you can cope with by yourself. If you’re self-aware enough and you realize that you can’t make decisions, then you need to go and get some help.”
Maynard acknowledges that over the years within the Barbadian context anything associated with mental health means that you’re going mad or going crazy. But she says it’s imperative that those views be changed for the betterment of society.
“We have to try and push past that and that’s what we’re trying to do with our psychology association,” she said. “We’re trying to educate the public that all of us are susceptible to mental health issues.”
According to Maynard, a change in attitude in mental health issues can lead to increased self-awareness and self-esteem.
“There’s also the lack of faith aspect,” Maynard says. “There are people who feel if you’re experiencing mental illness it’s a result of a lack of faith in God and you need to go and find your church again or talk to your pastor.
“The thought of leaving your religion in some way to go and seek help from someone else who may not have the same religious values is frightening or uncomfortable for some people.
“That’s another reason they don’t seek assistance.”
Maynard feels that public education is the only way to change those lingering perceptions that have pervaded society.
She is hoping that the upcoming Psychology Week sessions will help to increase awareness and bring about change concerning those perceptions.
“With public education we have to start from very young. We have guidance counsellors in the schools since the early 1980s and I’ve seen some change in the barriers breaking down about mental health counselling,” she said. “But we also have to get out there and educate the public, and while there’s a lot of information out there, people don’t access it until a problem arises.”
Maynard says that it’s important that people be informed about the symptoms of depression that would lead up to suicide, and the difference between a low or blue mood and clinical depression.
“I just think that proper education is the only way,” Maynard says. “We just need to get that information out there.”

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