Addressing mental health myths in the Caribbean

Despite its prevalence across Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean, mental health is often an under-discussed and under-resourced area. A large part of this has to do with the stigma and associated taboos that surround mental illnesses. Below, we’ve compiled some of the more common taboos that exist, the contributors to them and the related facts. 

Mental health issues? You mean demons!

One of the surest ways a Caribbean person can find themselves in the church or the focus of other religious functions is through an admission or expression of mental illness. Due to the belief that mental illnesses are merely a manifestation of a supernatural experience, many continue to believe that it is something that can be cured through prayers and religious rituals. While these practices can provide small positive effects on those who are religious, the reality is that those who are suffering from mental illnesses need medical and practical support in order to manage their illnesses. Therapy, medication, and other relevant resources such as economic support and removing someone from harmful environments that might have contributed to their illness can go a much further way than thoughts and prayers. 

It’s something that can be fixed with an attitude adjustment

Mental illness is often seen as being a frame of mind rather than a medical and social issue. Due to this belief, persons are often encouraged to think happy thoughts in order to overcome mental illnesses. The reality however is that mental illness can often affect the functioning of our brains. Much like how we are encouraged to seek professional help when we have a broken bone, the same must be encouraged for mental illnesses as it can significantly impact the 

functions of the body and life. 

“Yuh too happy!” Those with “good lives” have no reason to experience mental health issues

Often, when someone indicates they might be struggling mentally, there is a tendency for many to point out all that is good with the person’s life. While the intention might be well placed, doing this can often make it seem as if the person has no reason to be struggling. While those who experience hardship and trauma are several times more likely to develop mental illnesses, anyone regardless of their social and economic status can be affected. Also, what others often see is a surface level view of one’s life without knowing the internal struggles or experiences they are still trying to overcome. Being a mental health advocate means not dismissing someone’s struggles and looking for ways that you can offer or lead them towards support. 

Therapy? You must be crazy!

This belief places a lot of internal and external stigma on those with mental illnesses, resulting in them being feared and stigmatised. Mental health care is a fundamental part of living a happy, healthy life. Many peoples access to therapy and other mental health resources as they recognize the importance of practising self-care, maintaining open lines of communication and support. Seeking mental health care does not mean that one is crazy, it simply means that you have recognized that you need support due to your brain’s response to internal and external stimuli. 

They are attention-seeking

All humans desire and need attention. When it comes to those who have mental illnesses however, this need is often framed in a negative light. Persons who share about their struggles with mental illness are often painted as only doing it for the attention when the reality is that what they really need is support. Lack of support for those with mental illnesses is amongst the reasons that many attempt and complete suicides. 

Only certain ethnicities experience mental health issues

Across all ethnic groups, mental illnesses remain common. In Guyana however, there is a tendency to promote the idea that only persons who are white and/or non-Black can experience mental illnesses. This has created an environment wherein it has become much less stigmatized amongst certain ethnic groups, resulting in them being able to seek and access the support they need. This way of viewing mental illnesses is due to certain ethnic beliefs that have been promoted that frame certain groups such as Afro-descended persons as being strong and resilient, making it difficult for many to admit that they need help. 

Only “soft” men suffer from mental illnesses

Due to our “macho-man” culture that promotes ideals of toughness and aggression in the face of all adversity, men are often taught early to suppress their need for support. As a result, men who are open about the mental health challenges they face are often portrayed as being “soft.” These perceptions, which are rooted in toxic masculinity, are really dangerous as they discourage men from being open to seeking and receiving support from others. This is amongst the reasons that Guyanese men are twice more likely to complete suicide than women.

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