‘Depression – Let’s Talk’ World Health Day Message By Volda Lawrence (MP), Minister of Public Health

World Health Day this year focuses on depression and encourages us to ‘talk’ about the disease. Guyanese must muster the courage to talk openly about this rather than whisper in secret about the challenges faced by our relatives and friends.

Let me be candid with you: Mental illnesses are very common and mental illnesses can be treated.

I understand your fear about this particular disease and the likely pain you might experience because of stigma and discrimination. Globally, statistics reveal that 9 out of every 10 persons, – that is a startling 90 percent – of the patients with mental-health illness have experienced some form of stigma and discrimination.

I know the temptation many of us experience to hide our family members away from the glare of an unfriendly environment because of the stigma we will have to endure if we take our family or friend for treatment at a mental health facility.

So many patients and their relatives do not seek help at an early stage but wait until their condition has worsened.

Each year, globally, approximately 15 to 20 percent of a population will suffer some form of mental illness. Using this international figure, we can estimate that in Guyana’s current population that would mean that between some 112,500 to 150,000 persons are likely to suffer from some form of depression.

Globally too, 1 out of every 5 children or adolescent, that is 20 percent, has a mental health issues. Clearly, one is not too young or too old to have a mental-health problem.

A patient with a mental-health problem is not INSANE or MAD. This misunderstanding has made life even more difficult for patients and those who endeavor to help them.

Guyanese must consciously make things easier for its mental-health patients and their support system. Why should their families and caregivers too, face unjust treatment because of members of our society? The time has come for us to break the silence about the inhumane treatment of our mental-health patients and their care-givers.

We need to begin talking openly about illnesses such as depression because this form of mental ailment affects our ability at home, at work and in our learning institutions.

Like I said at the beginning, a mental health problem does not have to be permanent. You can recover and live a full and productive life once you are treated.

Our government has a plan. There will be more vigorous screening to identify potential mental-health and substance abuse patients.

Our policies, programmes and interventions will be data-driven to help reshape public perception and behaviour towards our nationals with mental-health challenges. These will also help to reorient our employers making them more responsive towards these employees and eventually removing any form of stigma and discrimination that may exist in the workplace.

Earlier, I made reference to challenges patients, their families and caregivers face from the society, which I believe stem, not from malice or a desire to be unkind, but to communication barriers.

This challenge must be eliminated especially if it exists among those in the public health sector.

As we observe World Health Day today let us all grasp the opportunity to be educated about mental-health challenges and the complications faced by our patients. From today, let us speak with each other and let us emphatise with one another in the common struggle to celebrate the humanity of our mental-health patients. They deserve it.

We can ill-afford our patients losing hope; we can ill-afford our care-givers becoming discouraged in the middle of the race; and most importantly, we can ill-afford our public health practitioners becoming disillusioned in their efforts to nurse our mental-health patients back to perfect health.

So LET’s TALK.

Happy World Health Day to all Guyanese.

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