Barbadians Suffering from Mental Illness Continue To Be Stigmatized

Homosexuality has become a hot button issue in Barbados like many countries around the world. It has morphed to a civil rights issue. Has anyone noticed the alacrity with which some of Barbados’ prominent citizens rally behind this cause?

On the other hand there is a group of people in Barbados who have been marginalized and stigmatized more than any other. If you are known to be afflicted with a mental illness the average Barbadian will shun you like a leper. If you want to live a ‘normal’ life do not visit that Black Rock facility.

While all the focus is on the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) goings on at the Psychiatric Hospital in Black Rock has been slipping under the radar. This current state of affairs reflects accurately the importance Barbadians and officials alike view the importance of mental care. Hopefully the day will come soon when the opinion of the psychologist will be given the same weight as the medical doctor.

Another feature of mental care in Barbados is the way patients are treated at the Black Rock institution. BU is aware of mentally ill patients referred to the Psychiatric Hospital by the Courts who have had to endure the most inhumane treatment. In some cases the treatment meted out can be compared to what a person remanded to Dodds would expect; being made to strip to the birthday suit and not to forget the obligatory ‘injections’. Anyone can suffer from a mental disorder given the stressful environment which has enveloped all of our lifes.

In light of how people suffering mental disorders have been treated in Barbados, we should be asking what can be done to change attitudes.

Do we need to add laws to the statute books? How can the new Chief Justice help to sensitize Officers of the Courts the need to treat the mentally ill without showing prejudice? Not to forget the employees at the  Psychiatric Hospital who are into profiling. Based on who you are perceived to be you are treated with greater or less respect accordingly. One should not have to come from a “good” family to be treated with respect when they go to ‘clinic’. Medication should be dispensed based on patient’s condition and not on the whims and fancy of hospital personnel. One does not have to be a doctor to appreciate that the incorrect administering of medications can have long term negative effects on the body and may accentuate the illness of the patient.

Now here is a cause which is worthy of advocacy. The homosexual many argue has the freedom to make choices, can we say the say thing for individuals who are suffering from a mental illness?


41 thoughts on “Barbadians Suffering from Mental Illness Continue To Be Stigmatized

  1. It has long been the idea that if you are mad, you go to “Jenkins” the name once given to the Barbados Psychiatric Hospital. I had the experience of visiting my late grand father in that institution when Alzheimer’s, and what I now came to understand as dementia took over of his brain. To this day the moments I spent with him there until his death remains imprinted on my mind and I won’t wish it on anyone. Be that as it may, there are truths that has to be faced and one of them is the thin line between sanity and insanity. No one is excluded or knows what awaits them around at next turn of life, all can be said is “there but for the grace of God go I”. We all know someone who attended high school or college with us who has ended up in a psychiatric hospital.
    I applaud BU for taking up this issue in our society and hope it is the seed planted to grow into a more serious organization to bring the awareness of this illness to the forefront. When professionals don’t have the cooperation of the community and limited resources from government, very often and even as they carry out their duties with their hands tied, they become very disappointed with that seemingly careless attitude toward their profession.
    We know there are professionals available to tackle this issue, it’s up to the general public to support them and have the line of communication open, more so in the media and social networks now available with PS announcements. My hope is that it does not take someone with star status to bring this issue to the ‘front burner’ as the death of Rock Hudson did for AIDS. We are a more educated and cognizant society and should face all matters affecting our society with a better understanding.

  2. David

    Your headline is narrowly focused on Barbados but people who suffer with mental illness are stigmatized no matter what part of the Globe they inhabit.

    The only way to dispense with the stereotype of the “mad” person which the general public has for those who struggle with mental illness is through education.

    • @Sargeant

      There is some truth in your comment but can we agree there is degrees to which different countries are sensitive to mental illness?

      Remember we are not only talking about perception of the public but the level of care delivered by the primary care facility, how the Courts treat with this matter etc.

  3. In respone to this article let me say that I believe that though education is a vital tool of enlightment when awareness to a particular matter is needed, I am not sure if in the context of Barbados if it is really working.

    If we seek right now to provide a series of documentaries on mental illness, will these put together educational endeavours bring about the desired outcome it iss intending to acheive? I am not so sure if it will. It is my impression that the only ones who tend to respond to things educational are the educated themselves with a small percentage of non educated persons interested in materials of enlightment. It is my impression, just assuming without statistics, that a large percentage of our population are ignorant to many concerns and matters because they just do not read, are generally not interested or are busy struggling with their own lives and problems to care about what matters to the society. In other words, if the problem is on the left and I am on the right then its not my problem. This prevailing mentality is what permeates many facets of our society. Hence we are not interested in the junk on the other side of the road because there is no junk on mine.

    The other thing why I feel education is not getting through the way we would like is because there is a large segment of our society (generalising base on observation) who are entertainment oriented and find anything educational to be boring and not worth the time. Now I do not have the statistics but if a survey was done I wonder what the results would provide.

    We have a very indiscipline and immature society and one I must say have shown less tolerance over the years. With the type of atmosphere that now exist in Barbados where life is now a struggle and changes in our once comfortable lifestyles is forcing is back when we thought we all were moving forward with less difficulties is not a comforting thought.

    Socieity in a whole is under pressure from various changes that are impacting our lives. Thus when pressure surmounts and remains continuous the development of fear and desperation sets in and survival is instinctive. This makes the effect of any educational plan or purpose not so affective.

    A new approach to sensitizing the general population cannot always follow the lines we think will always work. Because evidence has shown that in alot of cases, the effectiveness of such programmes is dependent on the individual and their type of disposition. Example HIV aids. They have been educated endeavours via the mass media, with flyers, leaflets and courses to stop the stigma against those affected but yet HIV related victims are no better off in their treatment by members of the public and even their families. I really think that the mode of education presented to inform the public of its right to act responsibly is not working.

    What therefore do I think would work? It is my belief that our society first needs a system that can instill discipline with an approach not to far from being regimented (or to rephrase service to your country) if we are to succeed. Each citizen should be made at the age of 18 to do undergo military training with service or work at a social institution (hospital, fireservice, health related institute or other with training) for one year similiar to what is done in certain European countries. I believe that this could be the start of correcting many of the stigmas and social ills that exist in our small society.

  4. A very good post David, well done. When we take up issues because they are a stain on our conscience and need to be addressed, we can make a difference. When the benefactors of our concerns are not in a position to give us benefits – which we do not seek – we are on the road to having a better society. This post “might” not have many replies but that does not really matter….the issue does.

  5. The problem can be corrected but the families of those in the hospitals need to step out and be champions for the :cause” therfore putting a face on the problem which others can relate to. Gays and others whose human rights are violated stepout of their closet and the world paid attention.

  6. A well-intended post, no doubt, but a deeply problematic one. Clearly BU is still struggling with some deeply rooted homophobia and some misapprehensions about homosexuality. Further, it is unfortunate that BU has propagated serious allegations of misconduct against healthcare staff, seemingly without substantiation.

    I support the fight against maltreatment of the mentally ill; but we don’t have to trivialise other struggles as we go.

    • @TheDoc

      Why would you assume BU has no basis for what was posted?

      If you want to challenge any premise of the post please do.

  7. @ Sunshine Sunny Shine:
    “In response to this article let me say that I believe that though education is a vital tool of enlightenment when awareness to a particular matter is needed, I am not sure if in the context of Barbados if it is really working.”

    I like your moniker a whole lot. As you can gleaned from my contributions, especially those bantering with Zoe I am a child of the Sun -Father in the Sky{Heaven}- which I worship everyday. Zoe might call me a pagan!

    I find your thread very interesting and well presented. I have to agree with you that despite widespread access to “education” and other forms of enlightenment many unfounded fears, bigotry and outright discrimination are displayed by Barbadians against people they view as “different, strange, weird, or not normal”. As long as a person does not conform to the Bajan mould of normalcy you are deemed as a deviant, misfit, or troublemaker.
    Take, for example, the recent comment made by the Minister (of all portfolios!!) responsible for Education & Human Development in which he described school children displaying so called deviant behaviour as being possessed by demons. How can we ever assessed this dark ages view of behavioural challenges posed by some segments of the youth as an “educated’ approach, informed by empirical and clinical analyses as would be expected from a person with the training, background and official status of the said political figure. It is known that one of the major protagonists in the Salem Witches trial was a black Barbadian woman called Tituba, but in this modern age of free universal education and enlightened “Christian” teachings it is passing strange that the said political figure can muster such a large local following to join his choir to shout from the pulpit and the school halls a harangue of criticism and condemnation of some of our young people who might just be manifesting the side effects of a socially dysfunctional environment either in the home or in the wider society. Drug abuse, openly shown pornography, continuous watching of mind-numbing DVDs with gratuitous violence and degrading sexual acts, misplaced priorities of material consumption (“bling culture”) and a nutritionally poor diet should be factors that ought to be taken into account in any analysis or understanding of the challenges or “deviant’ behavioural issues facing our school system and other social institutions.

  8. ” It is unfortunate that BU has propagated serious allegations of misconduct against healthcare staff seemingly without substantiation.”
    Barbados has been called affectionately the rock by many Bajans, However, some seems not only to live on the rock but under this rock.
    While I have never been to the mental institution at Black rock, I have been to the QEH fortunately not as a patient, given my observations I still think a ticket twice a year on Jet Blue is money well spent.

  9. How things change, there was a time when a person walked the road gesticulating and talking to him or herself he or she was considered a candidate for Black Rock, today when this happens, its more likely the person is the owner of a Black Berry.

  10. @ Colonel Buggy:
    You are a man with a wealth of experience some of it obtained by observing people from all walks of life.
    Tell us, why do Bajan people- when they are walking and talking on their mobile phones- have to fling and swing their hands all over the place. I find this kind of hyperactive gesticulation very amusing. Is it a cultural thing (idiosyncrasy) or can it be found among other cultural groups?

    • Interesting to listen to the news today where there is criticism that in Barbados there are too many agencies dealing with children affected by drugs.

      Perhaps if we had a premium mental health facility there would be a psychiatry department that could accommodate these children.

      Instead they are currently being treated by all and sundry.

  11. The comment by Colonel Buggy is a classic example of what the subject matter is all about. Here a very serious discussion on Mental Health is in progress and because the Colonel has never had, or knows anyone who is mentally deranged decides to take the light approach to the topic. This is the type of attitude to which I refer when I say that as professionals do their job and does not get the support of the general public, they throw their hands in the air. It’s time someone take up the challenge to be an advocate of the Mentally ill people of Barbados.
    (1) Make sure that the Government, in concert with said health professionals prepare some Public Service announcements for TV and Radio to educate the public.
    (2) Dedicate a month each year (if it is not in place yet), as Mental Health awareness month.
    (3)Have seminars on this issue at the many Community Centers around the country.
    (4) Have the RPBF, Legal Community, and health professionals prepare pamphlets to be handed out at Community and health Centers.
    I included the RBPF because very often the police is called when one begins to act up, and they should be cognizant of the circumstance of situation by understanding some of the behaviors and signs.
    No one knows what their destiny may be, and as I found that out when my grand father was stricken with Alzheimer’s and Dementia, and currently have a Church friend who is slowly losing her memory, I’m sure many of you also know someone. Just think how you would like to be treated in case you were to become a patient.

  12. millertheanunnaki | November 2, 2011 at 2:58 PM |
    @ Colonel Buggy:
    You are a man with a wealth of experience some of it obtained by observing people from all walks of life.
    Tell us, why do Bajan people- when they are walking and talking on their mobile phones- have to fling and swing their hands all over the place. I find this kind of hyperactive gesticulation very amusing. Is it a cultural thing (idiosyncrasy) or can it be found among other cultural groups?
    Bajans have always been “talking with their hands”. Observe the driver carrying on a conversation with one of the passengers in his car, with his hand outside gesticulating which very often is misinterpreted by other road users as a traffic signal.
    The Italians are good hand talkers,and hand users.
    But I knew a Brit soldier who used to salute Officers on the other side of a telephone call.

  13. A couple years ago, I was high up on the floors of the former National Insurance Building in front of the bus terminal conducting business. Whilst looking from one of the windows I saw two men obviously engaged in conversation. You know how I know they were talking. THe amount of hand gestures, pointing and body language suggested that they were. Honestly without the words and not seeing their lips move, the picture they painted was one share comedy. Imagine from that height and vantage point you looking down at these two people and all you can see is just hand and body movement. A lady next to me commented that the hand gesturing made them look like two dumb idiots using sign language. Ever since then I never talk using my hands.

    Then whilst in Sainsbury in Westham, a bajan answered his very expensive looking phone. The truth is that I was close enough not to have heard a ring tone so I assumed that it was on vibrate. When the man started talking he was very loud. Seems he wanted those around him to see his phone and know that he was some big up contractor scolding the supervisor for not carrying out his wishes. Everyone look around at him in annoyance. From that I dare not raise my voice beyond an octave that anyone can hear my conversation. But the same cannot be said for alot of us Bjans and black people as a whole

  14. @ Colonel Buggy:
    “The Italians are good hand talkers,and hand users.”

    In my first post on this topic I wanted to write: “Is it a cultural thing (idiosyncrasy) or can it be found among other cultural groups [say, for instance, Italians Spaniards & Portuguese primarily from the Southern Parts of the two Peninsulas]?”
    But it sounded a bit of ethnic profiling. I feel I can getaway with critising my own people but political correctness dictates I tread carefully when making comparisons with others who might not be in a cyberspatial position to defend themselves. These European southerners could have acquired “this hand job’ way of communication from their previous African (Moorish) conquerors and colonizers the same way Bajans have adopted many peculiar ways from the Irish & English ,especially those dating back to Victorian and Edwardian times.

  15. What we also have to look at is the type of treatment administered to mental patients at the Psychiatric Hospital. It not difficult to spot many of those who have been treated there. They seem not not have much coordination or control over hand , neck and foot muscles ,and always appear nervous. They either walk very fast or very slow, and soon quickly start putting on weight. Rumor has it that such people have undergone heavy electrical shock treatment.If so ? is this the recommended treatment, as almost daily we hear of some military unit or individual on operations somewhere in the world accused of torturing victims by electrical shock.
    Perhaps one of the main reasons why mental health is not ,(to use a popular Bajan political phrase),on the front burner, may be due to the fact that almost everyday, one can encounter a host of individuals, mainly of a young to middle age within the realm of Bridgetown who by all accounts , are victims of self inflicted mental illness, and a visit to the Psychiatric Hospital will reveal a similar picture, where many of the inmates, like the local prisons, are young to middle age. These people also have to be treated and take up considerable time of nurses, doctors and consultants. Therefore when those persons who are suffering from the traditional mental illnesses and such come along, they are robbed of this invaluable time of the professionals that would have otherwise be allocated to them.
    In Barbados we are talking of a new Sugar Factory, to replace two existing sugar factories, one of which is relatively new. A new general hospital to replace the 47 year old one. Refurbishment of the Empire Cinema. Restart of construction oN the St John Polyclinic that is going to run into several millions of dollars, but narry a word on a replacement for the Psychiatric , which has been occupying old Jenkins Plantation house since 1891/93.Perhaps this tells you what successive Ministries of Health think of the patients of this unit.

    • The question then is raised, why hasn’t our government and other stakeholders placed the Black Rock institution under the microscope in the same way we have the QEH?

  16. @BU:David: “The question then is raised, why hasn’t our government and other stakeholders placed the Black Rock institution under the microscope in the same way we have the QEH?

    Here’s another question.

    Why do so many ask questions, but never answer any.


    • Could it be that the parents, friends and families of mentally ill people are somehow ashamed to be associated with this cause?

  17. @Colonel
    Perhaps this tell you what succesive Ministers of Health think of the patients of this unit.

    Answer:They are not VOTERS and they do not have a voice.

  18. @BU.David: “Could it be that the parents, friends and families of mentally ill people are somehow ashamed to be associated with this cause?


    It is also possible you, BU.David, are mentally ill.

    What says you on this matter?

    • @Chris

      Given the fact that a psychiatric evaluation is not part of the average individual’s routine then it is entirely possible some of us who appear to be sane may indeed be battling cognitive challenges 🙂

  19. Yes people are ashamed in barbados when they have a family member or loved one mentally ill. AS i can remember people would not want to around those family out of fear . When people unite then and only then would things get done. Until then the politicians would continue to look the other way.

  20. @ac: “Until then the politicians would continue to look the other way.

    What about the politicians who promised certain things? Like, for example, the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA)?

    Should they “look the other way” while the Voters looked upon the politicians who promised these things?

    Just asking…

  21. @ ac:
    “Answer:They are not VOTERS and they do not have a voice.”
    Spot on, mate! You have hit the nail right on the head! No votes!
    The building of a new hospital or extensive renovation and refurbishing of the existing facility might involve some kickbacks through the award of contracts. But the constraint here is one of finance. No international lending agency will finance such a project unless some significant proportion of the capital cost can be recovered through user charges and fees. Most of the users of this hospital are poor and unemployed. Rich people who have mental health challenges go private for their counseling and medication and are allowed to continue with their day-to-day-lives in a “normal” setting within the higher echelons of society. Which Bajan would dare call or describe a person with money or from a “wealthy” family “mad” They dare not!
    If this lot of DLP politicians were smart they would have included in the design of the recently announced new hospital a wing dedicated to the treatment of mental health problems. The old psychiatric facility in Black Rock could then be used as a convalescence type centre; a type of half-way house before resettlement back in the communities. Of course there will be always a need for a secure unit for the really challenged cases prone to violence and posing a danger to themselves and others.

  22. @CH

    Are you joking. Look how many things Politicians past and present have promised the people and have reneged but have been voted back in office, One thing all politicians know that the voters ALWAYS FORGET
    BTW the Opposition BLP Is also Silent on the FOI. So why should the reigning Party kick up dust when it is not entirely necessary to do so . Right now the only Freedom the voters are looking for is that which allows them to spend freely with limited restrictions price wise. and both parties know that. As for the voices crying in the wilderness for FOI sorry but the neither party want it and for them it is not a political “hot potato”. maybe next time ,there is a saying”and it rings true on this issue of FOI and politicians” Birds of a Feather flock together” .

  23. @Colonel Buggy

    Rumor has it that such people have undergone heavy electrical shock treatment
    Electrical shock treatment is a thing of the past, if it is carried out it is a rare event. The twitching etc. that you observe is due to side effects from medication, diagnosis of mental illness could be very difficult, there is schizophrenia, manic depression, bipolar etc. and some of the symptoms overlap. It can take years for a psychiatrist to properly diagnose and treat an individual, in some cases they never get it right. Perhaps the cases where the patient twitches or makes involuntary movements the medication dosage has not been adjusted to account for the recovery.

    Mental illness can affect people in all walks of life, we generally see the severe cases but many people suffer bouts of depression that are not reported. It affects rich,poor,educated and uneducated recently there was a cardiologist who was charged with stalking the singer Shania Twain, from the evidence presented it was clear that the man suffered from some mental disability but the court didn’t rule that way.

    If patients in Barbados are being prescribed Olanzapine (Zyprexa) for mental illness, Eli Lilly has had to face many lawsuits due to its side effects.

  24. @ Sunshine Sunny Shine….

    “A lady next to me commented that the hand gesturing made them look like two dumb idiots using sign language. Ever since then I never talk using my hands.”

    So basically…

    A person who would be a mute is considered by this lady to be an idiot, too? This person LITERALLY uses sign language to communicate! I think you should talk to her, ’cause it’s people like her that explain the reason why someone with a handicap or mental illness is shunned in Barbados!

    It’s one thing to insult, but when the shoe’s on the other foot…

  25. It’s very sad to see a country which has such a high literacy rate, have so many people who are still walking around with their heads buried in the sand. All this is because of their false pride, if only they would pull the wool from over their eyes and stop placing their pride before reality they would see the light.
    The greatest orators and singers have always used heir hands to convey their expressions, this is one of the universal means of communications as many signs are the same in any language. As “Seeker” meant to say, “Never judge a man until you have walked in his shoes”.

  26. Pingback: Is the Queen Elizabeth psychiatric hospital in Black Rock really necessary? | My Blog

  27. Sadly , Black Rock is a place that needs to be closed. I do not think people get better in these condition it only makes the problem escalate .

  28. I was put in black rock after being beaten by my ex boyfriends friends. I had become suicidal what they did to me in BR is a HUMAN RIGHTS violation. They treated all patients as death row convicted inmates. There was no empathy, compassion in fact they made my problems worse and only compounded issues for me. I had been beaten and if this was not bad enough. I was now being emotionally traumatized. The showers did not work so they decided to hose us with a fire-hose one that was professional strength. Why do this? Other showers in this BR place. I was readmitted based on perjury and am an American to. I did not get due process either. Same ex boyfriend who was part of my abuse his sister over a bracelet she wanted me to return conjured up a story to get me readmitted. My ex BF came clean to a psychiatrist that I had been lied on and perjury was committed. But when I was in BR I was hardly allowed phone calls . None to my US Embassy. My family did not know if I was alive or dead the second time. When I was readmitted I did not know what I had done or was accused of . The nurse admitting when I cried “She said”You . You shut up. I saw patients with Parkinson’s disease ridiculed . They would tell me no one loved me no one cared that they could keep me forever. I had to beg for sanitary pads etc. I strongly believe the UN needs to know that Human Rights violations are happening there. It was of no surprise that an elderly man was killed by another patient in NOV 2012. More went on. I was robbed by my ex boyfriend and his friends while in there. What I went through was an utter hell. I am getting therapy not for the physical beating but for being tormented in BR.

  29. What is the present condition of the psychitatric hospital? Do they still torture mentally ill patients? What about the lack of available psychotropic drugs?

    • @gina

      Is it not interesting we focus on the QEH and forget about the psychiatric hospital? It says a lot about the people. Mental sickness is legit.

  30. Snoopy

    My question to you is this: why haven’t you reported this to the American Embassy ? But you have to also bearing in mind that you’re living in a third – world which still employs caveman methods as a way of getting things done. So on the one hand, I feel sorry for what you have been through. Though on the other hand, I am quite cognizant of the psychological apparatus at play here. What you have described above was common practice in the mental institutions in America until the 1970’s. When the federal government embarked on a policy of integrating the institutional setting mental health facilities, into community based setting to better monitor the reported abusive. Note: these changes are particularly evident in the state of Connecticut where I reside. And I have been employed in this area for the last twenty years, so I am privilege to information that average citizen wouldn’t necessarily be aware of.

The blogmaster dares you to join the discussion.