Mental Health Awareness Week Launched

October 11, 2023 | 0 Comments

The Bermuda Hospitals Board recently launched Mental Health Awareness Week with speeches from Virloy Lewin, Anna Neilson-Williams, and Minister Kim Wilson.

Health Promotion Coordinator Virloy Lewin’s Statement

The phrase ‘no man is an island’ by English metaphysical poet, John Donne, expresses the idea that human beings do badly when isolated from others and need to be part of a community to thrive. We are borrowing that phrase to say that “Bermuda is not an island” when it comes to mental health.

Mental health heavily influences our quality of life. So, it makes sense that mental health, just like physical health, needs to be taken care of and maintained. And one way that it can be maintained is through finding a sense of community.

Community can be defined in many ways, but when simplified down to its most important element, the community is all about connection. A community is not just an entity or a group of people, but a feeling. Its feeling connected to others, feeling accepted for who you are, and feeling supported. Having connections can help us feel wanted and loved.

Why Is Community Important to Mental Health? We’re social beings, and we are not meant to live in isolation. Community is critical for us to thrive, especially for someone with mental illness who is already experiencing the common symptoms of loneliness and isolation.

Community provides many elements that are critical to mental health, but here are three of the most beneficial aspects.

Belonging. A true sense of belonging includes the ability for you to feel you are a part of the community as your true self. There is not anything you have to change to be a part of the community, but instead, you are embraced and appreciated for your unique qualities.

Support. Knowing there are people who support you can help you feel cared for and safe and can benefit your outlook on life.

Purpose. Having purpose, and helping others, helps give meaning to life.

Belonging, support and purpose builds community. According to Mental Health Foundation UK, “Relationships are one of the most important aspects of our lives. People who are more socially connected to family, friends, or their community are happier, physically healthier, and live longer, with fewer mental health problems than people who are less well connected”. The Department of Health along with other partners mentioned are working together to build community that will reduce the stigma around mental health issues. Thank you.

BHB Chief of Psychiatry Anna Neilson-Williams’ Statement

The Mental Health Anti-Stigma Bermuda Initiative began in 2022. As the Minister explained, this is a national collaborative. We at the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute are proud members and welcomed the opportunity to partner to address stigma as it relates to mental health in Bermuda.

What is stigma? In our training it is defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person”. I’ll say that again. It is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person … “that sets a person apart from others”, and is a “problem of knowledge [ignorance], attitudes [prejudice], and behavior [discrimination]”.

In year one a survey of our local population on this issue found that, 2 in 5 people who identified as having or caring for someone with mental health challenges said that stigma had impacted their daily lives. They said they coped largely by avoidance. Avoiding social gatherings, public places, work, school and perhaps most concerning, even avoiding healthcare needs.

The majority of survey respondents indicated that internal stigma and fears or negative feelings about mental health challenges within themselves, was the greatest issue facing mental health in Bermuda.

Addressing stigmatizing attitudes will take time, but the stress of the pandemic over recent years has allowed for individuals to feel more at ease in sharing how they are feeling and this is an important step in this process.

So what are we doing? We are training people with lived experience of mental health challenges, to openly share and promote the importance of mental health for everyone. Thanks to Public Health England, these patient champions have been trained in the “Time To Change” model.

Addressing stigma is a cornerstone of the MWI Directorate plan and is an integral component in everything we do in our non-ceasing effort to provide our entire Bermuda community with optimal mental health care.

Minister of Health Kim Wilson’s Statement

Good morning

Today, in Bermuda and across the globe, we are observing World Mental Health Day. On this occasion, our goal is to raise awareness and mindfulness, not only about our personal mental health but also the well-being of those around us.

We know that in Bermuda, there exists a stigma associated with having a mental health condition or disorder, and many individuals don’t seek the care and services that are available. Consequently, not only do these individuals suffer, but often their entire families are affected.

Even for those who are receiving treatment, they must bear the additional burden of contending with the stigma attached to their condition, whether from those who are aware of their situation or even from those who simply witness them entering a treatment facility.

As the Minister responsible for Health, my hope is for a Bermuda community that is characterized by compassion and awareness. A place where everyone understands the significance of mental health, and where no one faces judgment because of a mental health challenge.

Is it an idealistic vision? Certainly. However, it is a direction we must actively pursue, and indeed, we are making strides in that direction.

Today, I am pleased to announce the establishment of the Mental Health Anti-Stigma Bermuda Initiative. This initiative represents a collaborative effort involving the Government, specifically the Ministry of Health, third sector organizations, private companies, healthcare providers, and international programs. Together, we aim to address and combat the stigma associated with mental health within our Bermuda community.

The theme for World Mental Health Day this year is Mental Health is a Universal Human Right. As the Minister of Health and as a lawyer, I want to make it clear that mental health IS a human right in Bermuda. It is covered in our Human Rights Act of 1981.

However, it’s important to recognize that stigma is not something we can simply legislate away. That’s why I wholeheartedly embrace the Mental Health Anti-Stigma Bermuda Initiative and commend their dedicated efforts. I encourage every individual to take a personal pledge today, committing to adopt a positive attitude toward mental health, both for themselves and for others.

Let’s make a conscious effort to be understanding and supportive, just as we would if someone were dealing with a common cold or a cancer diagnosis.

Let this newfound approach become a lasting part of who we are, not just for today, but for the rest of our lives.

Our small actions can make a big difference in creating a more supportive and mindful community.

Thank you.

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