The silent pandemic

Tashia Grace Burris shared her struggles with depression for 16 years in a Facebook post last Tuesday. -
Tashia Grace Burris shared her struggles with depression for 16 years in a Facebook post last Tuesday. -

On Tuesday, Tashia Grace Burris, the unsuccessful Progressive Democratic Patriots’ candidate for the Tobago West seat, wrote openly about her battle with depression for the last 16 years.

Her courageous Facebook post and her subsequent interview with Newsday, deepened understanding of the challenges of depression and the temptation of suicide.

Ms Burris, in her photos, is an alert young woman with a ready smile and a list of achievements. Her frank acknowledgement of the worst moments in her life offered a potent reminder that depression often does not advertise its presence.

The illness demands of friends and relatives a level of empathy and support that doesn’t always seem necessary when everything appears to be going well.

In 2017, Ms Burris wrote, she struggled with thoughts of suicide. But after confiding with a friend, she was able to begin to recover.

She had already suffered for a long time: she described the years between 2009 and 2017 as “a spiral” as she grappled with the loss of her beloved grandfather; then a friend – to suicide; the community’s reaction to her teen pregnancy; and the post-partum depression that followed.

“People see me as a person in front of them,” she wrote, “but they don’t know that person is literally living in a dark box.”

On Thursday, TT marked World Suicide Prevention Day with conversations about depression and its impact.

Psychiatrist Dr Varma Deyalsingh warned, during a virtual conference, that globally, suicide is the second highest cause of death between 15 and 19.

At the start of September, four attempts at suicide were reported, two of them children under 18. Three succeeded.

While the TT suicide rate has not increased, these indicators suggest a need for concern and awareness.

Psychologist Dr Katija Khan, a member of the UWI Covid19 Task Force, called for friends and relatives to be alert for signs of depression and mental illness. Dr Khan urged more attention to changes in behaviour, sadness and agitation, and talk of a life no longer worth living.

Most compellingly, she called for greater normalisation of conversations about clinical depression and acceptance of mental illness as a challenge that communities can both acknowledge and support.

TT has the third highest suicide rate in the Caribbean.

The pandemic and the restrictions limiting movement and social interaction have doubled cases of depression globally.

Stories like those of Tashia Burris are inspiring, particularly after the novice politician appeared to weather a punishing election campaign with grace.

But for every success, there are others who simply cannot cope, through no fault of their own.

Making it easier for anyone who is experiencing symptoms of depression to reach out and find help from trained professionals must become a key element in the national response over these long months of distancing and isolation.

The consequences of mental-health issues are as painful, serious and permanent as those of physical illnesses.


"The silent pandemic"

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