Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said the beating of 15-year-old Alliyah Alexander and suicides demonstrates that more efforts must be made to reach people with mental challenges.
Deyalsingh was speaking at the ministry’s launch of its Mental Health FindcareTT Stakeholder Engagement event at the San Fernando Teaching Hospital on Monday.
He recalled that when he took up office in 2015 he had said that mental health is the black sheep of the Ministry of Health because absolutely no attention was being paid to it.
While the ministry has decentralized mental health, he said they will never know how many lives they would have saved because the data does not exist.
“The news coming out post- COVID as far as mental health of our country is concerned and the world is one that need attention paid to it, especially unfortunate suicides and recently the very unfortunate incident of that 15-year-old child who was beaten. Those efforts underscore the need to reach out more and more to people,” he said.
Noting several famous sports personalities have spoken out about their mental challenges, he said mental health, possibly like COVID, is no respecter of status, income. “It affects anyone and if these people can be affected, we would ask what about the ordinary human being,” the minister added. While thanking those sports personalities for breaking their silence, he said there are still some people who are ashamed to come forward.
The minister added, “One of the things that we have to overcome in Trinidad and Tobago is stigma and how do we encourage people.”
While suicide prevention crisis support and other mental health resources are available, Deyalsingh said they have to get people to understand that they need help and direct them to where they could get help.
Quoting 2021 statistics of people who have reached out for help, he said Red Cross received 770, T&T Association of Psychologists recorded 1700 calls and the FindcareTT site had 50,000 page visits in 15 months.
“And we need more. We need word to go out that this resource is there. We need family friends co workers to recognise signs when someone is engaging in these types of behaviours.”
South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) CEO Dr Brian Armour explained that FindCare TT is a directory for the national emergency and crisis mental health services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Armour added, however, that in early February 2020, before the first COVID-19 case in, the SWRHA activated its emergency incident command leadership team to manage all aspects of the crisis, including mental health care.
He said its toll free Customer Care Centre 87-SWRHA, provided tele-mental health counselling to anyone who needed emotional or psychological support.
During the pandemic, he said the service was well used by people across T&T and they also had some international calls.
For the SWRHA staff, he said five telephone lines were available at their Mental Health Department and Authority also reactivated our Employee Assistance Programme.
Maria O’Brien, director of Mindwise Project, the developer of the FindcareTT website, said the most visited pages on the website were Addiction Support, Gender Base Violence and Suicide Prevention.
She added that the service could be accessed from any electronic device.
Pointing to some of the warning signs of suicide, she said these included drastic mood changes, saying goodbye to family and friends and giving away possession, feeling hopeless, talking about wanting to die, increase drug use and reckless behaviour, isolation from friends and family, irritability and sleeping too much or too little.