The Health Services Authority (HSA) continues to advocate the reduction of Mental Health stigma in the Cayman Islands through educational programmes and support of community events geared towards mental health such as the recently held Youth Mental Health Symposium.Launched by the Alex Panton Foundation on 10 February, the symposium focused on overcoming the stigma of mental illness. It featured several experts and mental health service providers showcasing various forms of treatment for Caymans youth and young adults with the hope that by raising the profile of these local services and resources, persons suffering from mental illness will know where to turn for help or advice.Several HSA mental health professionals attended the event in their capacity as members of the Loud Silent Voices, a family/caregiver mental health support group formed in 2011 at the Cayman Islands Hospital. It educates, empowers, supports and counsels family members who have loved ones suffering with mental illness.HSA Mental Health Nurse and member of Loud Silent Voices Pamella Williams explained that many studies have proven that family members/caregivers feel a sense of hopelessness, helplessness, burden, emotionally and physically draining feelings because of their direct involvement in the care of their loved ones who are mentally ill. They intensely experience the daily changes that are related to their loved ones illnesses.Support or care groups provide avenues that help family members to cope more effectively with the illnesses their loved ones are experiencing. Studies have indicated that there is a significant reduction in the level of the caregivers burden and they feel more hopeful, less distressed and more knowledgeable about what is happening with their loved ones. The sense of connectivity they feel as a part of a group makes them aware they are not dealing with this challenge alone, Nurse Williams explained.As professionals from the Health Services Authority we continue to support the cause of the group and facilitate the meetings and activities in every way we can, she added.In addition to providing accommodation and support for mental health groups like Loud Silent Voices, the HSA provides a wide array of mental health services and education to the public through the mental outpatient clinics, general practice clinics, emergency departments, mental health inpatient unit and community/home visits provided by the community psychiatric nurses (CPNs).The Authority brings public awareness to the Cayman community through yearly educational programmes/activities during Mental Health Awareness Week and Day. Such activities usually include but are not limited to health symposiums, conferences, radio and television talks and discussions, mental health drive through and walks, tea and conversation sessions on mental health issues and mental health screenings for depression and anxiety at supermarkets across the island.Nurse Williams stated a common misconception of mental health in Cayman is the lack of clear understanding that, similar to any other disease process, mental illness is associated with changes in an organ. This organ in the case of mental illness, is the brain (structure, chemistry and function), which means mental illness is strongly linked to the whole functioning of the individual, their thinking, actions and physical health.Many individuals feel that mental illness is a rare occurrence and it only happens to persons whose life situations and experiences are different from their own. They think, it will never happen to me, which is a belief that is far from the truth as only very few families are untouched by these disorders, Nurse Williams noted.Many people suffer from symptoms of mental illness in silence and out of fear of what people might think about them, they wait for many years before seeking the assistance the need. People also fear that their mental illness condition or diagnosis could affect their career and others might label or treat them differently for having a mental illness or if they are seen waiting for a psychiatrist, psychologist or counselor.Other local misconceptions about mental illness include:

  • Mental illness is a sign of weakness.
  • Mental health problems are forever and cannot be treated.
  • It is not safe to talk about your mental illness.
  • Most people with mental illness are violent.
“Raising the public’s awareness of mental health issues such as we observed earlier this month at the Alex Panton Foundation symposium is a great way to debunk the most common misconceptions about mental illness – an approach which could be instrumental in saving lives,” said Nurse Williams.The Loud Silent Voices support group for families meets on the last Tuesday of each month at 6.00 p.m. in the Hibiscus Conference Room at the Cayman Islands Hospital. All families of, and persons associated with persons with any type of mental illness are welcome.Persons experiencing severe symptoms of mental illness may seek immediate assistance at the HSA’s Accident and Emergency Departments in Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac or visit any of HSA’s general practice and district clinics.For less severe symptoms of mental illness, persons may call 244-2650 to make an appointment with a psychiatrist at the Cayman Islands Hospital Mental Health Outpatient Clinic. If you are feeling suicidal, contact 911 immediately for help.