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By Annan Boodram
In 1984 the World Health Organization (WHO) defined optimal health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.
Last year the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and Dominica held elections and mental health did not figure either in the campaigns, plans, policies or programs. With elections this year scheduled for Guyana, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago, and next year in Jamaica, and Saint Lucia, The Caribbean Voice urges all political parties to inform their nations about their mental health plans, especially where they stand with respect to the following:
- Integrating mental health into the physical health care system;
- Establishing psych wards in every hospital;
- Training all health care workers in basic mental health care;
- Mental health coverage under all health insurances;
- Psychologists in all hospitals and counselors in all schools;
- Gatekeepers’ training nationwide;
- Addressing agro-poison suicide;
- Suicide, domestic & sexual abuse units in all police stations;
- Safe houses across each nation;
- Laws to try abusers even when victims refuse to press charges and/or to testify;
- Establishment of detox rehab programs in the public health sector, accessible by all;
- Establishing registries of sex offenders – only Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica currently has. [A bill in The Bahamas parliament has been under discussion since last year but not yet passed. Online petitions are seeking to get St Vincent and the Grenadines and Guyana on board. The Child Care & Protection Agency in Guyana had announced a 2019 launch of a registry of sexual abusers of children but the launch has not yet taken place. Also, Grenada and Saint Lucia had announced plans to enact legislation since 2017 but to date that have not been done yet. Meanwhile, activists and advocates have also been calling for a sex registry to be established in Dominica.]
- Raising the age of consent to 18 years;
- Decriminalizing suicide where that has not been done which is in most of the Caribbean except Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands;
- Across the board support network for abused victims and suicide survivors;
- Creating mental health apps to facilitate citizens everywhere to be able to easily and quickly access services and assistance;
- Peer mediation programs in all high schools;
- National programs focusing on perpetrators and potential perpetrators to help address domestic and sexual abuse;
- Incorporating mental health, including suicide, all forms of abuse, self-esteem, coping skills in all schools’ curricula, handled by appropriately trained teachers;
- Establishing special education classes with trained teachers in all schools;
- Making all public buildings accessible by the disabled;
- Early intervention programs in all schools to screen for mental health and learning disabilities;
- Psychosocial support for all teachers, health care workers, and police officers;
- Inclusion of mental health in occupational health and safety regulations and training;
- Establishing poison control centers, where they don’t exist, to tackle suicide by ingesting poisons. To date only Trinidad and Tobago has one, which operates out of the University of the West Indies;
- Getting the mentally ill off the streets and into treatment centers;
- Setting up licensing protocols for clinically trained counselors and regulations to prevent quacks from setting themselves up as counselors;
- Government support for NGOs and CSOs offering services in mental health, bereft of political or other unrelated considerations;
- Updating all mental health laws to bring them in line with current research, information, and practices. Guyana (1930), Antigua and Barbuda (1957), Belize (1957), St Kitts and Nevis (1956), Saint Lucia (1957, Turks and Caicos (1904) and Trinidad and Tobago (1975) really do need urgent updating of mental health laws and ordinances.
- National campaigns to eliminate the stigma around mental health;
- Making rape a non-bailable offence offense;
- Getting all child workers off the ‘jobs’ and into schools;
- Making it mandatory for all convicted abusers to report to the closest police station on a monthly basis;
- Mandatory psychological evaluation for all mentally ill, whether actual or perceived, who appear in front of the courts;
- Establishing mechanisms making it easy for abused victims to report to magistrates and judges, if the police do not take their complaints, do not act on complaints quickly or ridicule them when they go to report abuse;
- Creating and passing legislation to protect the elderly from abuse and make detection of elder abuse and law enforcement a priority;
- Establishing a viable network of support nationally, for caregivers for the mentally ill and the disabled.
According to the WHO, mental health budgets as a percentage of overall health budgets in the Caribbean have not surpassed ten percent in any nation. Suriname leads the way at nine percent, Barbados at seven percent, Jamaica and St Vincent and the Grenadines at six percent with all the rest four percent or less.
With respect to treatment, there are no mental health institutions in Anguilla, British Virgin Island, Dominica, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, and Turks and Caicos. Only psychiatric beds located in general hospitals exist in Anguilla, Dominica or St Kitts and Nevis while Montserrat and Turks and Caicos only have outpatient treatment facilities. Only Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago have day treatment facilities while only Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago have residential facilities. Most critically, only Jamaica (25) and Trinidad and Tobago (8) have community residential facilities.
Considering the costs and resources necessary to establish mental health care infrastructures parallel to physical health case infrastructure, the WHO has been advocating for small economies like the Caribbean nations, it is more affordable, cost-effective and efficient to integrate mental health care into the current physical health care systems. And considering that optimal health is impossible without good mental health, Caribbean nations need to pull themselves forward into the modern era by placing mental health care on an equal footing with physical health care.
In 2018 a Lancet Commission report on mental health said that mental disorders are on the rise in every country in the world and will cost the global economy $16 trillion by 2030. While the actual figures are not available for Caribbean nations there is no doubt that a more caring society will be a less violent and more productive society and thus it is incumbent upon, all governments to entrench mental health care at all levels in all plans, programs, and policies.
Stress is a normal reaction to the demands of life. A small amount of stress can be good, motivating you to perform well. But multiple daily challenges can push you beyond your ability to cope.
The brain comes hard-wired with an alarm system for protection. When the brain perceives a threat, it signals the body to release a burst of hormones that increases the heart rate and raises the blood pressure. This “fight-or-flight” response fuels the individual to deal with the threat. Once the threat is gone, the body is meant to return to a normal, relaxed state. Unfortunately, the nonstop complications of modern life mean that some people’s alarm systems rarely shut off but instead keeps going day and night.
Over time, chronic stress can lead to serious health problems. Don’t wait until stress damages your health, relationships or quality of life. Start practicing stress management techniques today.
Stress management provides a range of tools to reset this alarm system, helping the mind and body to adapt, so the body is not always on high alert. Note however that stress management is not about eliminating stress; it is about converting unwholesome stresses into wholesome ones. The fact is that good stress can foster healthy challenges and enhance your engagement in any endeavor and push you to explore and experiment.
To monitor stress, first, identify the triggers. What makes you feel angry, tense, worried or irritable? Do you often get headaches or an upset stomach with no medical cause? Some stressors, such as job pressures, relationship problems or financial concerns, are easy to identify. But daily hassles and demands, such as waiting in a long line or being late to a meeting, also contribute to your stress level. Even essentially positive events, such as getting married or buying a house, can be stressful. Any change to your life can cause stress.
Once you’ve identified your stress triggers, think about strategies for dealing with them. Identifying what you can control is a good starting point. For example, if stress keeps you up at night, the solution may be as easy as removing the TV and computer from your bedroom and letting your mind wind down before bed, perhaps while listening to soothing, calming music or reading an enjoyable book in bed. Other times, such as when stress is based on high demands at work or a loved one’s illness, dealing with the stress will be more difficult.
In effect, learn to take care of yourself emotionally and physically. Get a massage, soak in a bubble bath, dance, listen to music, watch a comedy. Exercise regularly, get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet with the emphasis being on healthy. According to Dr Mark Hyman (acclaimed medical practitioner, best selling author, leading food allergist, social medicine advocate et al) eating whole, real foods restores balance and reduces the effects of stress on your body. Replacing harmful substances such as caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugars, with clean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats helps regulate your hormone levels, including stress hormones.
Food as Medicine, (a professional nutrition training program for physicians and other healthcare givers) education director, Kathir Swift (author, educator, dietitician and integrative clinical nutritionist, a lead teacher in the Healthy Living programs at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health) cites the connection between the gut and brain in relieving stress. The gut and brain are constantly sending signals to each other, so by keeping your microbiota (the bacteria in your gut) healthy, your brain feels less stressed.
Make a conscious effort to spend more time relaxing. Relaxation techniques can help slow your breathing and focus your attention; select a technique that works for you and practice it regularly. Techniques include deep breathing, tai chi, yoga, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation. More active ways of achieving relaxation include participating in sports or walking outdoors.
In fact, walking outdoors, especially where there is lots of greenery is highly recommended. Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces fear, anger, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you better emotionally, it contributes to your physical well being, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and the production of stress hormones. It may even reduce mortality according to scientists such as public health researchers Stamatakis and Mitchell. Research done in hospitals, offices, and schools have found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant positive impact on stress and anxiety.
If you find that your self-esteem is based on how much you weigh, your dress size, or if you are intensely preoccupied with food and exercise, it is worth seeking out the counsel of mental health professionals. Low self-esteem can contribute to and sustain disordered habits, which require specialist help to overcome.
Going through a separation or divorce can be very difficult and traumatic, but there are things you can do to get through your day and to make the adjustment. Keep to your normal routines as much as possible. Try to avoid making major decisions or changes in your plan. Avoid power struggles and arguments with your former spouse. If a discussion begins to turn into a fight, calmly suggest that you both try talking again later and either walk away or hang up the phone.
Recognize that it’s okay to feel sad, angry, exhausted, frustrated and confused and these feelings can be very intense. You also may feel anxious about the future. Give yourself permission to feel and to function at a less than optimal level for a period of time. You may not be able to be quite as productive on the job or care for others in an exact manner the way you’re accustomed to for a little while.
Take time to explore your interests, heal, regroup and re-energize. Reconnect with things you enjoy doing apart from your spouse. Volunteer. Make new friends. Engage in journaling. Many studies have shown that journaling is a valuable tool to improve mental health. Sing, dance, write and perform poetry, meditate, do yoga…just simply find one or more endeavors that will get your mood up, activate you and occupy free time positively.
If you own a dog or a cat, you already know that your pet gives you unconditional love. Pets seem to know what you’re feeling, and mirror those feelings back to you. All of those feelings—love, sharing, empathy, and much more—pick you up when you’re feeling down and they make you feel less stressed. As well pets can make us laugh. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter relieves stress and reduces tension. In fact, a recent study by researchers at Miami University and Saint Louis University found that pet owners had better self-esteem than non-pet owners. They also were less fearful and less preoccupied, all of which contributed to a decrease in overall stress levels.
Finally seek help and support from family and friends, whether you need someone to listen to you, help with child-care or give you a ride to work when your car’s in the shop. Sharing your feelings with friends and family can help you get through this period. Don’t be afraid to get outside help if you need it. Consider joining a support group where you can talk to others in similar situations. Isolating yourself can raise your stress levels, reduce your concentration, and get in the way of your work, relationships and overall health.
It is also important to note that recent research has shown that stress, trauma, and repressed emotions are capable of causing persistent real pain and other physical symptoms. This is called Psychophysiologic Disorder (PDD) or MindBody Disorder. Thus if you suffer from persistent pain that cannot be medically taken care of it might be worthwhile seeking counseling therapy. When it comes to mental health counseling works.
A pregnant teenager had an argument with her mother. As the mother proceeded to verbally abuse her daughter, the daughter angrily exclaimed ‘Me feel like tekking a dose a poison”.
The mother responded, just as angrily, ‘Wait deh me go bring am”.
This exchange exemplifies the communication that frequently takes place in relationships, and that often leads to suicide or triggers abuse, violence and occasionally femicide.
Emphatic communication is a tool that helps to avoid all of this. It is a great way to diffuse anger, create scope for dialogue and problem solving and allow for mutual respect, understanding and trust. It enables each partner in a relationship to self-express in a context free from fear, threats and eventual violence and shows the other person that s/he is listened to and that his/her inner universe (thoughts, emotions, attitudes, values, etc.) is being understood.
Empathetic communication is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding and trust. It enables the listener to receive and accurately interpret the speaker’s message/words, and then provide an appropriate, non-threatening, affirming response. Through empathetic communication the listener lets the speaker know, “I understand your problem and how you feel about it. I am interested in what you are saying and I am not judging you.” The effects include building of trust and respect; reduction of tension/conflict; free exchange of information and a safe environment that is conducive to collaborative problem solving.
In using empathetic communication the listener must be attentive, interested, alert and strive to create a positive atmosphere through nonverbal behavior so that the speaker is neither afraid nor hesitant in communication. The listener must not discount the speaker’s feeling, interrupt the speaker unnecessarily, constantly give advise or lecture the person, criticize or condemn, but must display understanding and sympathy and let the speaker know that together the issues will be addressed. In effect emphatic communication is a great modeling tool with which relationships can be placed on firm, functional and compassionate foundations.
“Our kids need to appreciate other people’s feelings ― they’ll be better friends, romantic partners and parents later,” said Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard educator and co-director of the university’s Making Caring Common Project.
So how can parents instill caring, fairness and basic morality in their kids?
“It’s all about modeling,” Weissbourd said. “Almost all kids are morally literate. They know adults have values, but moral identity is the bigger thing. When parents expect something, when parents have high moral standards, such as helping neighbors, modeling fairness, these understandings are backed up.”
These empathy driven traits are even more critical in an age of increasing suicide, teenage pregnancy, rape, incest, alcohol and drug use and physical and verbal abuse increasingly driven by social media. Thus it is critical that parents relearn use of language that would not alienate their teenagers, make them feel unloved and unwanted, make them act in anger and/or haste or make them feel, alone and lonely.
A Time Magazine article titled, “Teen Depression and Anxiety: Why the Kids Are Not Alright,” stated that today’s teens are, “The post 9/11 generation…hit puberty at a time when technology and social media were transforming society.” With the rise of social media, being a teenager today is tougher than any parent could ever imagine. The Time article states, “It’s hard for many adults to understand how much of teenagers’ emotional life is lived within the small screens on their phones.”
According to the Verywellfamily.com site, teens’ developing brains are extremely vulnerable to so much time online, and because they often have difficulty self-regulating their screen time, risks increase which means they are more susceptible to peer pressure, cyber bullying and sexting. The parenting site also lists the most common mental health related issues teens can experience from too much social media.
- Low self-esteem
- Sleep deprivation
- Communication issues, or lack of socialization skills for teenagers
Thus while parents can and must draw on their own experiences as teenagers to better understand their own teens, they should not impose their views about how things should be, on their teenagers, since the issues parents faced when they were growing up and the environment of that time are not quite the same as what obtains for their children. Most importantly, parents need to feel any pain and agony their children suffer and let them know that with their parents’ love, care and help things will get better, no matter what leads to the pain and agony.
The undoubted fact is that counseling works and very effectively so in most cases. Thus with respect to relationships, especially if pregnancy is involved, parents must reach out for assistance to ensure that their teenagers are safe. The bottom line is that stuff happens, often times unplanned and unwanted, and everyone makes mistakes as part of the growing up process. In fact even adults continue to make mistakes. So when teens make mistakes, parents and loved ones must understand that it’s not the end of the world. Life goes on and parents must first help their teenagers deal with the consequences of mistakes made, then help them learn from those mistakes and move on in life.
In effect, when that teenager stated that she felt like taking a dose of poison, the mother should have taken a deep breath, rush to hug her daughter and lovingly caution her to never ever say something like that again. A follow up, “do you know how much we love you” would also have been the right words to add. But that desire would not have been uttered by the child in the first place, if rather than confronting the child and talking to instead of with the child, the mother had entered the world of her child and seen what her child was seeing; in effect being empathetic. This would have helped the mother to avoid making the assumptions and misjudgments as a result of viewing through her (the mother’s) own lens. Also, the overall interaction would have had a significant impact on the child, and repeated over time, would provide that child with a model for her to internalize and use going forward.
In our work on suicide prevention, The Caribbean Voice has received a lot of comments to do with God, religion, and temples. Yes, faith-based counselors and individuals with deep religious convictions do believe that faith in God can help. In fact, one commentator posted, “Stop begging and send them to church to pray to God.”
So yes, we are certain that some suicidal individuals might have been brought out of that mindset by faith-based counseling. But faith-based counseling does not work with all, is not available to all and faith-based leaders are not generally equipped to offer clinical counseling.
Besides, people who deeply believe in God, still die by suicide. So it’s clear that there must be a range of strategies and access. It’s like someone having fatal cancer and deep faith in God. Such a person would not sit at home and say ‘God will heal me’. Instead, that person will seek professional help but also pray. So people who are depressed and suicidal must do the same – seek professional help and pray if they have deep faith.
Furthermore, a number of individuals also simply dismiss suicide as the victim’s personal choice and business and feel there is no need to get involved in suicide prevention since nothing can really be done. Yet there is a tremendous body of literature and shared experiences that prove that something can indeed be done and that suicide is preventable.
So as we move forward, it becomes important to dispel some of the prevailing myths and misinformation about suicide. For too long suicide and factors that drive this crisis have been viewed as ‘taboo’ and not an appropriate topic to be discussed in public. That taboo must now be laid to rest.
Myth # 1: People who are suicidal want to die.
Fact: Suicide is seen as a way to end the pain. A suicidal person does not see any other option but those who have survived attempted suicide say they never wanted to die.
Myth #2: People, who talk about killing themselves, are just looking for attention and won’t do it.
Fact: If someone is talking about suicide, regardless of how it is expressed, it must be taken seriously. That person is in pain and crying out for help. If you’re in doubt, keep talking to the person and listen carefully, then get professional help for that person. Unless this is done that person could end up carrying out the threat.
Myth #3: If people are determined to kill themselves, then nothing is going to stop them.
Fact: Various studies indicate that showing someone you care and giving that person just five minutes of your time has proven to reduce suicidal attempts. A person’s urge to kill him/herself, regardless of the reason, can be changed. A study of those who survived the jump from the Golden Gate Bridge stated they would not have jumped if someone had just spoken or even smiled at them during their period of crisis.
Myth #4: People who die by suicide never tell or show any signs of distress.
Fact: In various studies, it was noted that up to 80 percent of victims leave clues, either verbally or through their change in behaviors. That is why it is important to learn about and become familiar with the warning signs.
Myth#5: Discussing suicide with someone will put the idea in his or her head.
Fact: Talking about suicide lets the person know you care and that he/she is not alone. It gives a sense of relief and promotes a greater chance that the person will unburden himself/herself.
Myth #6: Only the poor commit suicide.
Fact: Suicide does not discriminate and it can affect the lives of anyone regardless of social status or financial background, as has been seen over and over.
Myth #7: Telling someone to cheer up when he/she is depressed will stop him/her from acting crazy.
Fact: Telling someone to cheer up will cause more distress because it will appear as if that person’s feelings do not matter and the person is not being taken seriously.
Myth #8: People are suicidal on impulse, or a whim.
Fact: Not true. Those who end their lives would have thought about it over and over in their mind; it’s this process that drives them towards the final act if timely professional help is not accessed.
Myth #9: Only cowards commit suicide.
Fact: It’s not a question or being a coward or being brave. The reality is that it is difficult to imagine the agony someone goes through before attempting or dying by suicide.
Myth #10: If you go to church you will not be suicidal.
Fact: Regular church attendance, by itself, has not stopped individuals from attempting or dying by suicide. And while belief and faith-based counseling may help some it takes more than that to help others.
Myth #11: Only people who drink try suicide.
Fact: Alcoholism or being under the influence of alcohol is not a reason for suicide, but may provide Dutch courage to the already suicidal.
Myth #12: People who die by suicide are selfish.
Fact: Actually it’s almost the opposite – people die by suicide because they think they are saving their loved ones from having to disrupt their (the loved ones) lives to deal with their own (those who are suicidal) pain and agony of the suicide victim.
In the final analysis please remember that ‘Suicide Prevention is Everybody’s Business’ and if each of us plays a part, we can save lives and enable potential to flower. Also do remember that suicide is never an answer, no matter what the problem or issue is; suicide simply leaves too many unanswered questions.
Besides suicide does not eradicate pain, it leaves behind a circle of agony that embraces those left behind. So we urge all to become familiar with suicide warning signs which can be found all over the internet. Remember, five minutes of your time can save a life.
Words matter, and often can and do take on a life of their own.
Thus The Caribbean Voice (TCV) is happy that so many were critical of the words of the Minister of Education, Dr Nicolette Henry, who implied that violence is “normal” in schools countrywide with her comment: “Well, usually students fight. It’s nothing unusual, as you would know; you’ve gone to school yourselves and we all would’ve seen…”
The reality is that no matter how often it happens, violence cannot be normalised by anyone, much less by a minister whose portfolio includes addressing the increasing violence and bullying in the nation’s schools. Worse yet was that this was a case of gender-based violence, since it was a male student abusing a female student. No amount of subsequent ‘damage control’ and actions to address the situation will have nullified the effect of the Minister’s words.
TCV also really does hope that an investigation is launched into the recent case presided over by Justice Jo-Ann Barlow, who took off one third of a sentence after a guilty plea by an abuser was accepted, because the abuser “didn’t waste the court’s time”.
Justice Barlow also said she took into consideration that the abuser was younger than the woman, and therefore the woman would be more aggressive.
To reduce the sentence of an abuser because the abuser pleaded guilty insults all victims of abuse and waters down the seriousness of gender-based violence, which is fast becoming an epidemic in Guyana and globally. As well, it sends a message to abusers that, once they plead guilty, they will receive less than the maximum sentence. In fact, one wonders whether there is any legal basis for such an action.
Furthermore, to base that reduction partly on an assertion that is baseless is astounding. Surely, the learned judge is supposed to have ensured that assertions are evidence-based, since courts should be dealing with evidence, and not suppositions.
The fact is that aggression in a relationship has nothing to do with age. Gender-based violence (GBV) is the result of the abuser’s need to assert power and control.
The third instance of words being used with little consideration given to their impact has to do with a statement made by the Director of Public Prosecutions, in which she disclosed that the most popular sexual offences her chamber is faced with is rape of a child under sixteen years, whereby there is penetration and sexual activity…”. To use the term ‘popular’ to refer to an act of rape is to awfully sanitize the act.
No matter how often rape is committed, it is never ever, and never can be, popular; and someone of the calibre of the Director of Public Prosecutions must be absolutely circumspect with the way she uses words.
Our appeal therefore is that those whose words can and often do shape views and opinions — especially when they are policy-makers or tasked with dispensing justice — must ensure that they use the right words in the right contexts, and assert evidence-based conclusions at all times.
At a panel discussion to mark 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence (November 25 to December 10 annually), Trinidad & Tobago’s Presbyterian priest, Rev Joy Abdul-Mohan expressed the belief that religious scripture should be reassessed as a means of curbing gender- based crime. While admitting that some religious texts and cultural norms promote violence against women, she called for a need for a new paradigm.
“The church needs to see the Bible through new eyes, to wrestle with scripture and yield a new understanding of the texts, thus, eliminating the patriarchal biases of scripture that may condone violence in all its forms against women. At the same time, the church need to raise significant issues of faith, which will assist persons, more so women, to become empowered,” she added.
While The Caribbean Voice does agree that a new paradigm is needed, we are left somewhat puzzled as to how ‘issues of faith’ can empower women to tackle gender-based violence. This almost seems like the Reverend is placing the onus on women for the elimination of violence against them, which is tantamount to victim blaming.
This victim blaming was emphasized by another statement of the Reverend in which she noted that women must also be agents of change and should stop justifying violence. Who and what are the women supposed to change? Her answer? “Women must develop and exercise an empowering rather than a controlling style of leadership to which most women have grown accustomed.”
Really? Women are controlling? Where in the Caribbean? So how come the controllers become the victims? And again just how are they supposed to be empowered to be able to prevent gender-based violence? The reality is that in the significantly patriarchic Caribbean, victim blaming is alive, and unfortunately, even women leaders, including faith-based leaders engage in this exercise.
Soroptimist International San Fernando president Bebe Ajodha, zeroed in on the reality, when she said that religious leaders do not have the necessary training. In fact TCV is on record calling for all priests of all religions to be provided with basic clinical training. It’s a call gaining currency as evidenced by a 2014 report entitled Broken Silence: A Call for Churches to Speak Out, based on a survey of 1,000 US Protestant pastors, which found that eight in ten pastors say they would take action against sexual and domestic violence if they had the training and resources (https://www.caribbeannewsglobal.com/clinical-approach-is-critical).
A large majority (62 percent) of pastors in the survey said they have responded to sexual or domestic violence by providing couples with marriage counseling, which the mental health community widely acknowledges as a potentially dangerous or even lethal response for a victim. Mental health care is evidence based and in this context clinical counseling is the requisite approach. And so in addition to repeating our call for priests to be provided with the necessary mental health training. TCV also calls upon all faith based leaders to gather the facts before speaking on issues like gender based violence as what they say carries weight with faith based practitioners and religionists. Purveying misinformation and inaccuracies only worsens the situation and creates greater danger for abused victims and those living in abusive relationships.
This panel discussion was typical of the talk shop and photo ops activities that regional governments and organizations engaged in to mark 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence. The fact is that ‘Activism Against…’ does not equate to talk shops and photo ops. Given the scarcity of financial and other necessary resources Caribbean governments must move away from talking to viable and impactful action. One such initiative is to promote and foster safety for victims and potential victims of gender-based violence as outlined below.
Safety in an abusive relationship
Never ever make any excuses for abuse since all you’re doing is giving more power to your abuser. Always remember:
- You do not deserve the abuse.
- That’s not how he is.
- Provocation is no excuse for abuse.
- The abuser’s anger is no excuse for abuse.
- Drugs and alcohol are neither excuses for nor the cause of abuse.
- You arguing with him is no excuse for abuse.
- He cannot really love you if he is abusing you because abuse is not love.
- An abuser will not stop abusing all by himself/herself. At the minimum he/she needs counseling.
So what do you do?
- Report to the police and get a copy of your report from the police.
- If you are injured seek medical attention and get a copy of the medical report.
- Seek the support of caring people. Tell someone you trust about the abuse. They may be your friend, a family member, a neighbor, a co-worker, or staff members of support agencies. Talk to them in a private, safe place. You do not need to face abuse alone.
- Have an intervention: one or more persons close to and trusted by both of you – family friends, religious leader, family elders, professionals…and be honest with each other in the discussions. Whatever the issues are, they need to be addressed.
- Seek counseling by contacting the relevant ministry, any NGO that offers such a service or government counselors at public health care institutions or government offices in various parts of the country. Such information can be found at this link – http://caribvoice.org/resources.html and this one – http://caribvoice.org/global.html.
The above are aimed at preventing a recurrence of the abuse. If it happens again then:
- Have a safety plan. If your partner is abusive, have a plan to protect yourself and your children in case you need to leave quickly. – when is the safest time to leave, how will you leave, where will you go, what actions will you take? Set up a support system – a trusted friend, family member, or professional can help you devise a safety plan and find a safe place for you to stay, if necessary, until you get to a shelter. For a list of shelters in your country.
- File for a restraining order that will tell your abuser to stay away and have this with you at all times.
- Do not remain in the abusive relationship because of the children. This will make matters worse for you and the children and can endanger lives – yours and your children. Besides, boys will grow up thinking its ok to abuse their wives and girls will grow up thinking its ok and normal for their spouses to abuse them. As well, children will grow up thinking that an abusive family relationship is ok and normal, after living in a situation in which they were always fearful, angry and stressed. And unhappy parents often take their feelings out on their kids.
- Do not stay in the abusive relationship because of economic dependence, that is you do not earn an income, only the abuser does. Again this will make matters worse for you and the children and can endanger your life and possibly the lives of your children. Besides two happy separated parents are better than two miserable together parents. And financial and material help can be accessed through governments and certain NGOs.
- Remember you don’t have to live with abuse; you have other options. So do not let anyone pressure you into staying in an abusive relationship. In the final analysis, this about you, your life and the lives of your children.
- If you need legal aid but cannot afford a lawyer please contact the any legal aid entity in your country, any organization that focuses on gender based violence or the relevant social protection/affairs ministry in your nation.
A good safety plan and great safety information can be found at
https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/nypd/downloads/pdf/domestic_violence/safety-planning-en.pdf. Although this is the website of the New York City Police Department, almost all the info is globally relevant. The Caribbean Voice can also assist. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. What’s App 646-461-0574, 646-202-3971, 592-621-6111. Also check out our website at www.caribvoice.org for more information.
Globally, the basis for gender based violence is gender inequality, a truism that has been verified by various studies and surveys, including the recently released, The Guyana Women’s Health and Life Experiences Survey 2018. Of course, this inequality is manifested differently in different parts of the world, and nations. However, ‘Activism Against…’ entails that a basket of prevention measures is necessary anywhere in the world. Thus it is encouraging that this Guyana survey came up with recommendations for “evidence-based programmes that have been shown to be successful in other areas to the multicultural Guyanese context, be adapted; that there be a review of local, regional and global initiatives…”. Indeed there is no need to reinvent the wheel, neither in Guyana or anywhere else in the Caribbean.
As well, the survey advises the creation of “national prevention programmes, deployed to all areas… to decrease the fragmentation of prevention programmes and to ensure that programme information reaches all sectors and locations”. It is a fact that in small nations, such as those in the Caribbean, there is an urbanization of focus in spite of calls by stakeholders for a diffusion of services, resources, programs and activities to reach everyone, everywhere. So abuse prevention can take the lead in instituting programs that reach every nook and cranny.
Thirdly, ‘Activism Against…’ would be incomplete if focus on victims safety and protection is not complimented by focus on abusers and potential abusers. While this seems to be a globally neglected approach, what currently exists includes Britain’s NICHE Guidance that suggests moving away from treating abuse as a crime or social issue, making it a public health priority and throwing every prevention measure at it. NICHE’s inclusion of men is done via the ‘Be a Lover not a Fighter’ approach, a multi media awareness campaign. Other measures would include a multi-pronged conversation with boys nationally, possibly via focus groups, that addresses the root cause of gender-based violence; proactive instead of reactive anger management programs where and when needed; intense sensitization and awareness using all available platforms; creativity to address the issues of drugs, alcohol and pornography as well reengineering the emotional makeup of men and boys so that they internalize the truism that it is ok to cry, to show fear and to be emotive whenever the need arises, as the basis to creating more compassion males who will be able to ditch the stereotypical macho male image.