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The naked self benefits my mental wellbeing
Someone asked recently, why I felt the need to speak about nakedness and the baring of the soul.
He wanted to know if I believed opening up about my mental ill health diagnoses had any benefits and why would anyone want to be tempted to do such a thing in our culture.
The key to my answer was the concern about “our culture.” Chiefly, I emphasised that the culture of stigma and discrimination that exists in T&T is not special to us but is a worldwide hazard that incorrectly and unfairly promotes labelling and ostracising of those who live openly or visibly with a mental health diagnosis.
For me, it is exactly this which intimidates individuals into silence that I have used and continue to use to force the conversation to stay loud and live and to promote better understanding about mental wellbeing and mental ill health.
Wellbeing is affected by every aspect of a person’s existence. A person’s physical and mental health, his/her social life, his/her economic standing, cultural values, peer influence, community, including upbringing within the family and wider community, all impact on wellbeing.
Sometimes, for some people, the emotional life comprising an individual’s feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes exact the greatest pressures and, living in a space that does not have healthy outlooks and behaviours towards psychosocial health, increases the trauma.
In a WHO document about adolescents living with HIV experience, they described numerous psychosocial stressors which I believe are exactly true for those with a mental health diagnosis. The document says that stressors may be related to the initial diagnosis and disclosure of status; the emotional and financial strain of long-term care and adherence to treatment; coping with stigma and discrimination; distrust of healthcare providers…and abuse/violence (http://apps.who.int/adolescent/hiv-testing-treatment).
Add to that the threat of unemployment upon disclosure of one’s adverse mental health. status. Generally, employers here carry a silent code about not employing or accommodating an employee with a mental ill health diagnosis. The proof is in my inability to find one company in T&T that specifically encourages the employment of people who appear different or declare their difference. And, I am unaware of any clause in the Equal Opportunity legislation that compels employment for such, despite accession to United Nations treaties that say we should behave differently.
But mental illnesses and disorders are so prevalent and mental wellbeing, with or without a diagnosis, is so essential to a healthy individual and an overall healthy population that I cannot accept we should remain closed mouth and secretive about these issues.
That is why I keep talking.
I talk to change an entire population. I intend to impact every life that touches mine globally whether in person or by other communication media. I speak up to make the difference.
I want to create a space where anyone who wants to can talk without fear of prejudice.
Too many people walk around as an unhappy, unfulfilled, miserable shade of themselves for fear of being open to say “I have been raped,” “I have been abused,” “I have suffered interpersonal violence,” “I have been in a depressive state for months,” “I am simply feeling emotionally unwell,” I feel suicidal.”
Me? I am vociferously declaring #MeToo. I am unafraid to say I am a survivor of sexual abuse, interpersonal violence, verbal abuse and manipulation, I have had no less than eight attempts of rape that I “escaped” from as early as age ten, and I have also in turn been as abusive as some of my abusers. I grew up abjectly poor and some of that environment also impacted me negatively despite the brilliance and dedication of my parents to shield me.
That is only some of it and it does not intimidate me to speak out. Neither am I ashamed of the wrong that others have done to me—it was their wrongdoing anyway, and therefore it should be their guilt—not mine!
And, where I have violated others, I remain very open to make swift amends. I would not know how else to live in this world if I had to carry all those difficulties, disappointments and a diagnosis of mental illness.
And, I am not scared either of your gossipy lips that would run to make small talk about my issues. That too, is a reflection of you, not me. So, go ahead nuh and cast the first stone.
n CAROLINE C RAVELLO is a strategic communications and media professional and a public health practitioner. She holds an MA with Merit in Mass Communications (University of Leicester) and is a Master of Public Health With Distinction (The UWI).
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