SRC Seeks to Dispel Stigma of Mental Illness

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Members of the Organizing Committee of Sandilands Month have planned a series of activities to commemorate the month including a Psychiatric Symposium, Health-a-Thon, Fair, Family Day, Thanksgiving Service, Junkanoo Parade and Retirement Luncheon. Pictured from left are Mrs. Lorraine Lundy, Junkanoo Committee; Ms. Janet Johnson, Thanksgiving Service; Ms. Psyche Edwards, Health-a-Thon; Mrs. Betsy Duvalier, Public Relations Manager; Sir Arthur Foulkes, Patron of the Health-a-Thon; Mrs. Dorothy Roberts, Raffle Committee and Mrs. Betty Farquharson, Family Day. (Photo/Patrick Hanna).

By: Matt Maura

NASSAU, Bahamas – A psychiatric symposium for church leaders, members and workers, health-a-thon, fair and a Junkanoo parade are among the many activities planned for Sandilands Month, which will be celebrated during the month of November.

Officials at Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre (SRC) say the activities should help to dispel the stigma attached to mental illness in The Bahamas by promoting interaction between patients and members of the public.

The Health-a-thon and Fair will honour the achievements of two of the country’s statesmen; Sir Arthur Foulkes and Sir Clifford Darling, who will serve as Patrons along with their wives, Lady Joan Foulkes and Lady Ingrid Darling.

The Sir Clifford and Lady Ingrid Darling/Sandilands Fair will be held on November 10, at the Sandilands Fair Grounds, Fox Hill Road.

The Sir Arthur and Lady Joan Foulkes Health-a-Thon will be held a week later, on Saturday, November 17 beginning at 6:30am and will be open to walkers, cyclists and wheelchair competitors.

The race for walkers will begin at the SRC Compound turning South onto Fox Hill Road, east to Yamacraw Road, West onto Prince Charles Drive and South onto Fox Hill Road and ending at the SRC.

The cyclists will begin at the SRC Compound, turn North onto Fox Hill Road to the Fox Hill round-a-bout, continue North on Fox Hill Road before turning East onto the Eastern Road, West onto Yamacraw Road and North onto Fox Hill Road, ending at the SRC Compound.

The wheelchair race will begin at the SRC Compound, turning South onto Fox Hill Road, North into Colony Village, west to Prince Charles Drive and south onto Fox Hill Road and end at the SRC Compound.

Mrs. Betsy Duvalier, Public Relations Manager, says the Darling/Sandilands Fair will provide mental health professionals with an opportunity to promote interaction between patients and members of the public, in addition to removing the stigma attached to mental illness.

“While persons outside of the mental health arena take such gatherings for granted, the mental health professionals consider this an assessment tool for the psychiatric team,” Mrs. Duvalier said.

“The fair is a grand opportunity to observe patients interact with strangers, develop socialization skills and cope with the crowds. The stigma about mental illness has caused persons to shun the Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre even under normal circumstances (and so) it was therefore necessary to devise a method by which persons would not feel pressured into visiting the Centre,” Mrs. Duvalier added.

The Psychiatric Symposium will be held Wednesday, November 14 at the Royal Bahamas Police Force Conference Centre, East Street and will focus on the church’s role in the “sustained rehabilitation of the mentally challenged.”

It is designed to equip Pastors and church workers with the skills to successfully intervene prior to the development of a crisis due to the presence of mental illness and to encourage church members to accept and not reject individuals who may become mentally ill.

The symposium will also encourage church members and workers to explore their own biases, prejudices and fears about mental illness that can render them ineffective in assisting others who may be mentally ill.

“Statistics show that 40 per cent of the people who experience mental illness first contact their clergy,” Mrs. Duvalier said. “Most often, they encounter little, if any, help or guidance. The church has to therefore train its people on how to respond to mental illness and that is what we hope to accomplish at this symposium.

“The church should consider learning about mental health and illness because the Gospel has a great contribution to make in the area of ministering to those with personal and emotional concerns and mental illnesses,” Mrs. Duvalier added.

Religious leaders, she said, should consider organizing mental health “Action Teams” in order to assist members of their congregations and not generally assume that mental disorders are a result of sin.

“They can also help to remove the stigma and misconceptions that prevail and remove the barriers which frequently prevent persons with psychiatric illnesses and their families from participating in the full life of the church.”

Topics to be addressed at the Symposium include the early signs of mental illness, warning signs of relapse, myths that separate the church and mental illness, the role of the church during the hospitalization of the mentally challenged person and building the bridge between the church and mental health.