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??Leaders from the faith-based community and representatives of Constituency Council listen attentively at the Mental Health 101 training session today at the Pan American Health Organization, Christ Church. (C.Pitt/BGIS)

Leaders from the faith-based community and representatives of Government’s Constituency Councils are being encouraged to become "compassionate advocates" for mental health in their respective communities, and the wider society.

Chairman of the Ministry of Health’s National Mental Health Commission, Reverend Dr. Marcus Lashley, made this call as he addressed the Commission’s Mental Health 101 training session today, at the Pan American Health Organization, Dayrells Road, Christ Church.

Reverend Dr. Lashley told participants, particularly those from the Muslim and Christian faiths, that they should demonstrate compassion to their fellow citizens and worshippers who exhibited signs of mental illness. He further added that religious leaders were some of the most powerful partners in fulfilling the mandate of the Commission, which was to promote mental health reform.

He said they were, by their very ethos and expression, change agents in the community, and their sanctuaries, whether mosques or churches, provided safe spaces for quiet reflection, introspection and occasions for persons to "ponder their relationship with the divine".

"Advocacy entails action, which engenders increasing our awareness levels; increasing counseling and mentoring and, at times, working at defending and denouncing. In simple terms, it means getting involved at a personal level with the specific goal of causing transformation.

"Being a mental health advocate means being a champion for change… Persons with mental health illnesses are imbued with inalienable rights and should always be treated with dignity. This is important, because if we ever lose sight of the person, we run the risk of causing injury and perpetuating discrimination," Reverend Dr. Lashley asserted.

The Chairman pointed out that a large number of persons with moderate to severe mental illness, found it to be a painful and lonely experience. Unfortunately, he said, for too long faith-based communities believed that mental illness was exclusively the product of some demonic force. However, he explained that it was now known that apart from some spiritual experiences, severe and chronic mental illnesses "were the direct product of the environment, biology, cognition, personality and, at times, culture".

Reverend Dr. Lashley said that everyone, at some point, would be at risk of developing deviations from normal thinking and behaviour that might force them to seek specialised or professional help. He added that while considerable energy and effort was being focused nationally upon a healthy body, it was also important to invest some resources in developing healthy minds.

melissa.rollock@barbados.gov.bb

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