Mental Health in Caribbean Culture Kristal Wilkins

I have a bit of a different perspective on mental health and how it is “treated” in our community. I am American born to Vincentian parents. I live in Brooklyn in a predominantly Caribbean neighborhood. I haven’t been personally touched by mental illness by I have seen how it is stigmatized by people who are West Indian or Black in general. Until recently, there wasn’t even a space to talk about it. I know in my household particularly everything is a damn secret, so if anyone in my immediate family had some sort of mental health issue, no way anyone was going to find out. 

I will admit that as a result of not knowing the impact or seriousness of mental illness on those directly affected and their family/caretakers I did not offer support or show any sort of compassion. Now, I grew up in NYC, so by default I am absolutely desensitized to a lot of things. I see people who display signs of manic disorders on the subway or in the street and I’d just shake my head and think “That person is crazy let me get the fuck away from them” or I just advert my eyes, blast music in my earbuds and they disappeared into the background. I didn’t care at all as long ad they didn’t get close to me, I was good. I heard all the time that mental illness was not “our problem” “that is white people tings” so I was as dismissive about it as that theory. Black people-especially Caribbean people-do not have these issues OR It was something temporary that could be prayed away, some obeah, roots, juju, you’re haunted or it’s the devil. 

To be truthfully honest, I still don’t know how to support people who are touched by mental illness. There should be some sort of training on that. Do schools have the proper tools? Maybe. But they always default to the most economical solutions. I know for sure the public school system here in NYC’s answer is to have the school nurse pump the kids with medication. That really is the way of the western world in general. The US government does not give a fuck about poor people, but sick poor people are cash cows. We know that capitalism reigns supreme and big pharma is king in these parts so there isn’t a public official or policy maker that isn’t in their pocket, whether it be directly or indirectly. Mental illness in our community is only now being brought to the forefront. More conversations must be had. I know I need to know what signs to look for, how to provide support and how to keep myself balanced. A lot more people are going to therapy, which is a nice option if you can afford it. I would also like to find out about alternative treatments. 

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