Local group helps to remove stigma of mental illness

In an effort to help remove the stigma often associated with mental illness, the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Grand Cayman is joining other groups around the world to raise awareness and to educate on the topic.

“Mental health is not something talked about a lot, especially not in the Caymanian and Caribbean Community,” said Alexandra Bodden, a psychologist at Behavioral Health Associates Cayman and a member of the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Grand Cayman.

During a session on “Living with Schizophrenia,” community leaders spent an hour at the Brasserie restaurant in George Town learning about the struggles faced by people with mental disorders.

Ms. Bodden said the Pan American Health Organization recently visited the Cayman Islands to do a report and found that local mental health statistics were “fairly equivalent to other areas in the world, which is about one in four” people with mental health issues. The report has not yet been published, she said.

Ms. Bodden’s presentation highlighted some of the telltale signs of schizophrenia, which is a mental disorder often characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to recognize what is real.

“Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder, not to be confused with split personality disorder psychosis, which is a break from reality not within the person. Psychotic symptoms include mainly hallucinations, seeing things that aren’t there, hearing voices…really ingrained beliefs not based in reality,” said Ms. Bodden.

She also released some figures on schizophrenia in the Cayman Islands.

“Schizophrenia occurs in about 1 in 100 people…I think it’s important we look at this one because it is often the most feared and most misunderstood. In a population of about 60,000 people, it’s going to be affecting about 600 people…in our own community.”

Ms. Bodden also touched on some of the common myths, including that people with schizophrenia are dangerous and the illness is the result of a moral or character failing.

Schizophrenia is a no-fault illness passed on through genetics, Ms. Bodden said.

“Of the mental illnesses, schizophrenia tends to be one that is a lot more genetically loaded, so about 50 percent of is from genetics…There is often a family history of schizophrenia,”she said.

Ms. Bodden said a person with schizophrenia is no more dangerous than a person without the illness, and is more likely to isolate than cause a threat.

Another speaker, Kenneth Figueira, a therapist at the Health Services Authority, shared the story of one of his patients who was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

“He got to the point where he began to live in a neighbor’s back yard in the back of a lorry,” said Mr. Figueira.

He said the patient had been in and out of medical treatment for years, refusing to take his medication, until something inside of him changed after he read a booklet on depression.

“All the noncompliance over the years changed, and within six months he was renting his apartment, didn’t need social services…,” said Mr. Figueira.

The patient is now stable after years of struggling in and out of treatment. “Today he met me at his workplace and indicated that he has just gotten a loan to build his home, and he now has a car and drives to work at this time.”

He also said that some of his clients were discriminated against due to their mental illness. “I have a lot of clients who because of their mental health illness that can’t get any jobs.”

The message at the end of the presentations was one of hope, that there is recovery from severe mental illness.

“This is something that is impacting the community,” said Ms. Bodden. “What’s really important to keep in mind is there is hope for recovery. With the right services, we are able to get all of these people functioning and living happy, fulfilling lives and being contributing members of society.”

Ms. Bodden appealed to the audience to help.

“We are going to need you guys as community leaders who are going to be able to help us educate Cayman on the importance of understanding mental illness,” said Ms. Bodden, “and the importance of decreasing the stigma surrounding mental illness and mental health services and decreasing discrimination.”