Researcher probes Caribbean mental health

By Jasminee Sahoye

A University of Manchester mental health researcher wanted to find out why Caribbean people in the U.K. are nine times more likely than white British counterparts to be diagnosed with schizophrenia. So she decided to visit Jamaica and Barbados to find out what lessons can be learned.

Dr. Dawn Edge spent time in hospitals and with community care teams as well as giving lectures to local students and health workers. She was also invited to give evidence to the National Mental Health Commission in Barbados and brief the high commissioners in both countries about her findings.

“The treatment of mental health in the Caribbean can be quite different but there are important similarities,” she said, adding “We’re all trying to work towards removing stigma and to make community and hospital care much more joined up. This helps to save money and get people the care they need sooner and also reduces the burden of care.”

On a visit with a community care team in Jamaica, Edge noticed the treatment turnaround time can be as short as a few weeks, compared to months in the U.K. This is an area she is keen to explore in future research.

“It would be good to examine clinical data to see whether those same patients may be back in treatment much sooner than in the U.K.,” she said. “However, there’s a lot to be said for cutting down the time which people spend away from their families, jobs and communities.”

Edge’s visit was funded by a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship which is designed to send U.K. citizens to other countries to ‘travel to learn … return to inspire’ change to improve the lives of U.K. citizens.  It was set up with the donations made by the public after the politician’s death in 1965.

She wants to make a difference with some new projects which include capacity building and collaborating to develop research projects that examine Caribbean people’s mental health across the Diaspora.

She added, “The Caribbean region is very different from the U.K. in terms of resources but they are struggling with many of the same problems that we are here such as tackling stigma, reducing inequalities in accessing care and integrating mental and physical healthcare.

“Anything we can do to build stronger links between the Caribbean, the U.K. and colleagues researching Caribbean mental health in Canada and the U.S. is going to have benefits for people’s mental health on both sides of the Atlantic.”

In a related story, men from minority ethnic groups experiencing mental health problems in the U.K. take longer to recover than white men as they are more reluctant to seek professional help, according to research.

Researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London, have called for an active program that promotes mental health to Black and minority ethnic (BME) men, as a disproportionate number, compared with white men, have been shown to come into contact with mental health services. This could, for example, include publicity at places where BME men congregate or regularly attend.

Dr. Frank Keating of the Department of Social Work at Royal Holloway, said: “Mental illness can have a devastating effect on people and their families but sadly many men from Black and ethnic minority communities can be hesitant to seek help.

“This can be for a number of reasons, including previous negative experiences with health professionals who have lacked cultural sensitivity, as well as the stigma attached to mental illness. The different social expectations of men among minority ethnic communities can also lead to them feeling pressured into conforming to unrealistic ideals that can cause further stress.”