15 May 2011

Prejudices of mental illness

A couple mornings ago, I was reading  an article in the Daily Express:

A 34-year-old Tacarigua joiner who previously threatened to commit suicide yesterday made good on his promise and hanged himself at his home.

Davindra Boodram killed himself during a Skype online video chat with his girlfriend in the US.

Skype is an internet program that allows users to make free audio and video calls through their computers.

Boodram, police said, ended his life around 11.45 a.m. at his Bally Trace, Huggins Street, Tacarigua, home.

During the conversation, police said, Boodram took an electrical cord which he used as a clothesline in his room and hanged himself while his girlfriend looked on through the video feed.

The woman telephoned one of Boodram's sisters and informed her what happened.

Boodram's relatives, who live nearby, rushed inside and found him hanging from a rafter.

Police were notified and a team of officers from the Arouca Police Station and the Region II Homicide Bureau, led by Sgt Learie Figaro and PC Coombs, visited the scene and began investigations.

Officers said they were told by Boodram's relatives he had previously threatened to take his life, but his threats were not taken seriously, even though he complained of feeling depressed.

His girlfriend had recently spent six weeks in Trinidad and only returned to the US two weeks ago where she lives. Boodram had a 12-year-old son from a previous relationship, police said.

As sad as the situation is, what was even worse was reading some of the totally asinine comments written by several contributors. Here are some examples, and my response.

D_interested wrote:

“what a coward....”

My response:

“Do you know anything about depression?

Depression takes you down to the lowest you can go, a place where death is not an option or a 'way out' but a necessity... most times people who are depressed don't even know they are depressed, or that their behaviour has changed...

And seeing the amount of 'thumbs up you already got, I see you are in popular company.

The true sadness is that in Trinidad, people like you stigmatise those who truly need help the most. And even sadder than that is that you prefer to insult and berate rather than acknowledge your role in preventing people like this from seeking help or even obtaining it; sadly, mental illness is not treated as important in Trinidad but as something to be mocked and made fun of. You don't even feel remorse for your asinine behaviour!!”

TNTnewsman wrote:

“Well good riddance to a really dumb man!! Anyone who's a fool to take his life deserves no sympathy. Life is sacred. Murderers forfeit their lives and should be executed but this man's an idiot.”

My response:

“Do you know anything about depression?

I notice you're quick to mouth off on many issues but you're knowledgeable about very few.

As I told one more as* above:

"The true sadness is that in Trinidad, people like you stigmatise those who truly need help the most. And even sadder than that is that you prefer to insult and berate rather than acknowledge your role in preventing people like this from seeking help or even obtaining it; sadly, mental illness is not treated as important in Trinidad but as something to be mocked and made fun of. You don't even feel remorse for your asinine behaviour!!”

I have to say that this is not the first time I have seen articles of a similar nature that is, on depression. All of them have similar ignorant comments. This post is therefore long overdue.

Depression is a bit of a misnomer. The word itself does not give the true meaning of the illness. Usually when people speak of depression they speak of momentary or temporary sadness. A funk that one can get out of. Depression really is something a whole lot more. It is more than a mental illness, more than a physical illness, more than a state of mind… I don’t think this blog even has enough room to fully get involved in what depression is. What it isn’t is something to be mocked at, scoffed at, made fun of, berate, insult…

Trinidad and Tobago has a poor and appalling record of treating mental illness. Have you heard the terms “ketching power”, “possession”, “spirits”, “ketching malkady” etc...? All usually referred to some form of mental illness, although the last could refer to “fits” as well.

Depression doesn’t happen in a moment, or even a day, or a week, or even a month. You can become depressed (I mean the usual low mood or sadness) in that time, but you won’t suffer from depression. The depression I speak of builds, so gradually even the people closest to a sufferer and around him/her never notice a change in your behaviour. This is why most depressive people are so successful in hiding their depression. No one notices such small, gradual changes that occur over months or years. It is why when one attempts suicide, or self harm, the shock is immediate and sudden upon those who never knew. Most times, a depressed person doesn’t even know that s/he is depressed.

Mental health in Trinidad and Tobago is managed almost solely at St Ann's Hospital. This is a place where those who have sanity and control over their live avoid like the plague since it is a dumping ground for those criminally insane, and those really insane. Also housed here are people whose relatives don’t want, who cannot be controlled due to their illness, or who have been declared mentally incompetent. It is also the place where addicts are sent for treatment.

St Ann's Hospital is a cesspit, no denying that. It contributes to the stigmatisation of the mentally ill. Even for those suffering from depression or addiction, stigmatisation is rampant and has two effects. One is that the person is labelled as insane in society, leading to further stigmatisation and ostracisation. The second is that many persons are aware of this, leading to people avoiding getting the care they need, making their condition worse. The end result is not pleasant. When it ends as this post started, with the death of a loved one, the true horror of the realities of mental illness begins to hit... but usually only to those who are personally affected. The rest of society, like D_Interested and TNTnewsman are merely proclaiming their ignorance and prejudices.

I’ll end with a particularly articulate quote left by one of the blog contributors at the Express;

"It is easy to die, but hell to live"

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