Physical health is of paramount concern to many Anguillians. This is evident from the number of persons who frequent gyms, and who are regularly seen walking or cycling throughout the island. When we hear persons speak of having to visit the doctor it is invariably for some physical ailment. Clearly due recognition is given to the need to promote and maintain our physical health.
However, there does not appear to be the same high regard for the need to promote and maintain our mental health. Many of us do not appreciate that just like persons have different physical strength, persons also have different mental strength. Just like persons visit the gym to maintain superior physical form, there are mental activities that persons can engage in to maintain superior mental form. More importantly just like persons access physiotherapy to assist with physical difficulties, psychologists and psychiatrists are available to assist with mental difficulties.
There is a clear distinction between the number of persons accessing physical care and those accessing mental care. While it might be that there are generally more persons in need of physical care, it is becoming increasingly apparent that persons who could possibly benefit from mental care are not accessing such care. It is accepted that, in Anguilla, access to mental care is not readily available as the number and range of trained professionals is limited. While this may be the case, it is believed that the available trained professionals are not fully utilised.
While persons are, generally, not hesitant to acknowledge their physical difficulties, this is not the same for mental health difficulties. Persons with mental heath issues are often made to feel that they just need to get their act together and sort themselves out. In other words, whatever issues they have, they can and should simply address them – and they should not need any help to address them. Persons in need of help are often made to feel weak, rather than persons being understanding of their situation and suggesting professional help – as they would do for persons with physical health issues.
Increasingly, persons, particularly young persons, are expressing dissatisfaction with their lot in life and many of them appear to be depressed and find little value intending to daily activities. Persons often express that they feel victimised. They claim to have been denied opportunities and to be overlooked in favour of more connected persons. Some persons have responded by emigrating, primarily to the UK, and others, who have remained in Anguilla, often indicate that they have only remained because their elderly parents need them. We do not hear of persons responding to challenges, which affect the psyche of persons, by seeking assistance from appropriate professionals.
Anxiety, depression, stress, low self esteem, behavioural changes, withdrawal from life may all be signs of mental health issues. How many of us see and respond appropriately to these signs? At home and in school, a child displaying these symptoms might be described as difficult – and discipline might be the preferred remedy resulting in the exacerbation of the problem. In the workplace, employees might also be in danger of being disciplined, or even dismissed, because poor work performance is not linked to a mental health issue which could be managed or remedied with the appropriate professional assistance.
Challenges are a part of life, and most challenges persons face are likely to be psychological rather than physical. A change in mindset is essential if, as a society, we are to promote and maintain not just a physically healthy population, but a mentally healthy population as well. We must give mental health the attention it deserves.