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A timely move

Thursday, January 12 2017

WE welcome the outreach by the public health sector to get religious groups on board to help the mental wellness of their memberships, as reported in yesterday’s Newsday story, “Workshop on mental health: Imams receive training”. One South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) spokesman said the religious leaders are not being trained to make clinical evaluations but rather to be able to identify red flags of mental ill health and so recommend a suitable referral for proper help to be rendered.

This is a very timely initiative that we certainly support being rolled out nationwide to other faith-based organisations.

Additionally, we suggest the initiative be taken beyond the confines of the traditional hospital/ clinic setting where patients receive treatment, and beyond the stigmatisation that the issue has attracted such as due to its identification with populations such as the homeless.

Mental wellness affects us all.

A 2007 World Health Organisation (WHO) document, “The WHO AIMS Report” on TT, said mental health is not just about pathology but also about one’s ability to simply cope with life, namely, “as an inner balance, ability to manage the everyday deals and to choose a correct solution of personal problems, as well as to adhere to the conventional behavioural standards”.

We would boil it down further, for each person to reflect, “Am I happy, and am I coping?”.

The report also identifies both mild/moderate mental disorders such as depression or anxiety (including phobias), plus more severe psychiatric disorders, saying an underlying stigma (where mental illness is not seen as just another disease or illness) may deter persons from using TT’s mental health system. Other mental health issues are sleep disorders, eating disorders, sexual disorders, personality disorders (such as narcissism) and impulse-control disorders. Behavioural addictions such as gambling, alcoholism and drug-misuse are mental health issues in TT whose prevalence surely needs to be quantified and qualified, and formally addressed. For example, what proportion of socially-marginalised populations such as the homeless and the incarcerated have lives negatively affected by such addictions? For example, United States (US) research suggests that low levels of the brain/mood chemical serotonin can result in impulsive aggression in persons. One US study cut prison violence by feeding fish-oils to inmates to biochemically re-balance their brains and lift mental health.

Outside of pharmaceutical remedy, mental health in some cases may be improved by lifestyle changes such as in diet/nutrition as in these findings by Joseph Hibbeln for the US National Institutes for Health. Healthy eating, more exercise, more time with loved ones, charitable giving, and prayer can likely boost our mental balance.

Research shows that exercise can reduce the occurrence of dementia in the elderly. Conversely, loud and unwanted noise such as from firecrackers or booming bass loudspeakers can cause aggravation, irritability and mental upset in persons unwittingly exposed to such.

The 2007 WHO AIMS report lamented an absence of awareness campaigns to get “buy in” by the public, the need for closer collaboration with other actors in the health sector and the absence of a research culture in mental health.

The Ministry of Health website currently lists objectives for mental health as being more public education, more linkages with State actors and NGOs and a general reduction in the negative perception of mental disorders.

All of the above suggests the need for more efforts towards mental good health at the level of offering primary health care, such as healthy lifestyles.

Such changes can very aptly be conveyed to the population, in the places where they now congregate, such as schools and places of worship, even as we commend the SWRHA’s current initiative.



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