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Mental disorders on the rise in this social networking era


Last Saturday, October 10, was commemorated throughout the world as World Mental Health Day.

We do not have statistics on the incidence of mental illness in St Vincent and the Grenadines, but in the United Kingdom, one-in-four adults and one-in-10 children are likely to have a mental health problem in any given year.{{more}} International statistics also show that globally, mental disorders continue to increase, contributing significantly to morbidity, disability and premature mortality. There is no reason to suggest that the local statistics deviate very much from what has been recorded in the UK or around the world.

The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day, which is led by the World Health Organization and began in 2006, is dignity.

St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) still has a long way to go before it can be said that, as a society, we treat our mentally ill with dignity. This state of affairs makes the situation for those faced with mental health problems worse, because scorn and social isolation makes it more difficult for them to safeguard their well-being and to seek help.

Here in SVG, the mental health centre at Villa is currently being renovated and upgraded. We welcome this long over due development; however, the centre also faces other critical challenges, including staffing. A release from the Ministry of Health in commemoration of World Mental Health Day, said emphasis is currently being placed on shifting the current focus of the public mental health services from the treatment of severe persistent mental illness to mental health promotion and prevention of mental disorders such as depression, substance related disorders and child and adolescent psychiatric disorders. This shift in focus to prevention is timely, and for a reason, which at first may seem counter-intuitive.

An increasing number of our people, particularly our teenagers and young adults have accounts with social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which are supposed to promote social interaction and camaraderie.

Researchers have, however, been finding that persons who frequently engage online are more vulnerable to depression, loneliness and low self-worth. According to the New York Post, in 2013, scientists at two German universities monitored 584 Facebook users and found one in three would feel worse after checking what their friends were up to — especially if their friends’ posts gave a favourable impression of their lives. Additionally, the studies show that young people, no matter how accomplished, are the most vulnerable.

We, therefore, need to be concerned, but awareness of our vulnerabilities is half the battle. We need to take a deliberate and proactive approach to guarding our mental health and that of our children, in much the same way as we look after our physical health. But the individual and families can do so much and no more.

The mental health services provided in SVG need to be significantly expanded and improved upon, so that all who find themselves in need of treatment can receive it with dignity. We too, the other members of society, should examine our attitudes to the mentally ill. Are we willing to hire former patients in our businesses? Do we welcome them back into our homes, families or circles of friendship? Just a few questions we need to ask ourselves.