Confronting Mental Health Issues in St. Kitts & Nevis – The time is now!

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Ours is a paradise, nevertheless, as a middle income country, in fact the smallest independent nation in the entire Western Hemisphere, our developmental challenges are grave. We, the people of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis exist without the comfort of or the reliance on any particular natural resource for our economic and social development, except our Human Capital.  It is critically important therefore that as we seek to advance our nation, that not only the physical health but equally the mental health of our asset base of merely 50,000 people, be a priority. Due to the small size of our country and our population, it becomes very necessary that most, if not all, of our citizens aid in the development of our nation. Hence, it is of utmost importance that we focus on mental health issues to ensure that our main resource, our people, remain psychologically intact.

St. Kitts and Nevis have fought to uphold the tradition of providing universal healthcare to all citizens and residents. Nonetheless, through all of its major developmental strides, the issue of mental health is still a topic that needs a great deal of debate and discussion. In 2009, a report prepared by the World Health Organization (WHO) claimed that the country spends only 1% of its annual health budget on treatment of psychological disorders. Consequently, the WHO is of the view that the lack of investment into a proper mental health infrastructure has resulted in low rates of mental illness reporting and recording. Although there has been some effort to add to the existing infrastructure, for example, the Mental Health Day Treatment Centre which is scheduled to open at Lime Kiln later this year, it is imperative that the government invest more into mental health as soon as possible. This investment should include the training of more mental health professionals to deal with the psychological and psychiatric issues that exist in the country. After all, a proper mental health and wellness infrastructure will assist in keeping the citizens healthy enough to play their role in the nation’s development.

Another consequence of the lack of investment, is the limited knowledge and education on mental health issues amongst the population. It is sometimes seen as ‘taboo’ to openly discuss psychological disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. In fact, a substantial amount of the population still attribute supernatural powers (such as ‘obeah’) as the root cause of many of these mental illnesses. This highlights the dire need for mental health awareness to be spread amongst the citizenry. Educating the country about this serious topic can be done through forums such as the classroom, town hall meetings and the media. Furthermore, children should be socialized and educated on issues surrounding mental health and wellness. This is the only way to directly address the subject and make it easier for future generations to have open and informed discussions without fear.  Additionally, these discussions can help people educate themselves on the real root causes of mental health and also the treatment options that are available within the country.

Mental health stigma arises as a result of the failure to tackle the issues discussed above. The citizens of our beloved country should play their role in ensuring that there is an end to this problem. This can be done by educating ourselves on mental illnesses, which would in the end decrease our stigmatizing behaviours. Kittitians and Nevisians should also encourage friends and family members to use the resources available to seek help from mental health professionals.  If we fail to confront mental health issues, psychological disorders may end up becoming a major health burden in our little Federation. This would mean that a substantial amount of money would have to be spent to treat these illness. Furthermore, it can lead to a decrease in the quality of life of our human capital, which, as stated before, is the most important component in ensuring that our country’s development continues. Therefore, the time to confront mental health issues in the Federation is now. The time to realize that incidences of suicide may result from disorders such as depression and schizophrenia is now. The time to invest in the training of mental health professionals is now. The time to build our mental health infrastructure is now. This issue needs to be tackled similarly to physical diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and diabetes. The use of direct measures will assist in raising awareness on mental health issues, which will in the end, reduce the disgusting stigma that surrounds mentally ill persons.

It is often said that the wealth of a nation lies within its health. A nation that has most of its population functioning on a proper mental level is one that will develop properly. Let us therefore invest in our country’s development by ensuring that our human capital is mentally fit.

Submitted,

Davin Francis,

Case Manager, Ministry of Social Development