Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. 10 October 2023. Mental health issues affect people worldwide; Latin America and the Caribbean are no exception. The prevalence and incidence of mental diseases in the Caribbean are concerning, impacting men, women, and children. Depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse are the most common mental health issues.
World Mental Health Day observed annually on October 10th, aims to raise awareness about mental health issues, promote mental well-being, and advocate for the rights of individuals facing mental health challenges. The theme for 2023 “Mental Health is a Universal Human Right,” underscores the importance of ensuring everyone has the right to access quality mental health care and support.
Mental, specific neurological, substance use disorders, and suicide form a subgroup of diseases and conditions that significantly cause disability and mortality globally. In the Americas, these conditions and events are responsible for approximately a third of the total years lived with disability and a fifth of total disability-adjusted life years (DALYs)1. Several Member States are among the top 20% of countries with the highest age standardised DALYs per 100,000 population2. The burden is significant in young people, who often struggle with stress, anxiety, and depression. Nearly 16 million adolescents aged 10-19 live with a mental disorder in Latin America and the Caribbean3.
Economic disparities, limited access to mental health services, and cultural stigma contribute to the increased risk of mental illness. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this situation, as mental health issues became more prominent, and mental health services were disrupted.
“Mental health issues are closely linked to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Caribbean. People with mental health problems are at higher risk of developing NCDs, and vice versa. Disorders such as depression can arise with diabetes and heart disease. This interplay between mental health and physical well-being highlights the urgency of addressing mental health as a public health priority,” stated Dr. Joy St. John, Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).
CARPHA is committed to promoting good mental health in the Caribbean region and supports developing and implementing programs focusing on mental health awareness, prevention, and access to mental health services. The updated CARPHA clinical guidelines for managing diabetes and hypertension emphasise the need to address mental health issues for those living with the NCDs and their caregivers.
Good mental health and well-being are important components for persons to realise their full potential, participate and contribute to their communities, and workplaces. As such, equitable access to mental health services, public education and awareness about mental illness are critical to supporting these components.
Policymakers are urged to prioritise mental health services and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness to support good mental health in the Caribbean. Mental health issues can significantly impact the management and outcomes of NCDs. Healthcare professionals should seek to address this profound connection and integrate mental health support into the care of patients with NCDs.
Communities and families can provide social support and promote awareness. Individuals can take responsibility for their mental well-being by prioritising sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, engaging in physical activity, and avoiding alcohol and drug abuse.
It is essential to eliminate the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. Persons with mental health challenges have the right to live in their communities and receive appropriate services and support.
On World Mental Health Day 2023, remember that “Mental Health is a Universal Human Right.” Together, we can create a world where everyone has access to quality mental health care and the opportunity to thrive. World Mental Health Day was first observed in 1992 as the World Federation for Mental Health initiative. Since then, it has grown into a global movement, with various organisations, communities, and individuals joining hands to combat the stigma associated with mental illness and advocate for mental health as a human right.