Making Mental Health a Priority


Leaders from across the globe over the past days have expressed sympathy to the people and Governor Dan Malloy of the US State of Connecticut, where last Friday a shooting rampage took place at an elementary school leaving 20 children (12 girls and eight boys aged between six and seven) and seven school staff dead.  The attack can only be described as senseless and incomprehensible.

The gunman, a 20-year old committed suicide, but also took the life of his mother prior to committing his horrific act at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  It has been said that the gunman suffered from mental illness.
Mental health conditions affect millions of people in the world.  The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 151 million suffer from depression and 26 million people from schizophrenia; 125 million people are affected by alcohol use disorders.  As many as 40 million people suffer from epilepsy and 24 million from Alzheimer and other dementias.  Over 840,000 people die by suicide every year.   
Effective treatment of most mental disorders is possible.  The image of mental illness is contaminated with images of violence.  People with mental health conditions are among the most marginalized and vulnerable groups.  They are often excluded from mainstream social and economic activities, as well as from decision-making on issues that affect them.
Sint Maarten has its own Mental Health Foundation that caters to close to 400 patients and clients (2009 figures).
In the Connecticut school case, several weapons were found at the scene which brings to the fore gun control.  Similar acts of mass killing where a gun(s) were used have taken place in different countries leading to stricter gun laws and the ban of semi-automatic rifles.  In some instances, hand guns were banned.
Unfortunately, tragic events such as these lead to action.  This should not be the case!  Pro-activeness should be the order of the day rather than allowing the loss of innocent lives to dictate the way a society should act. This alone is incomprehensible.  Why not learn from the mistakes of others, the lack of action by others?
As a new country, the well-being of our people is essential to the future of our nation.  Mental health improvements are central to a nations’ development.
Positive mental health is linked to a range of development outcomes and is fundamental to coping with adversity.  Poor mental health impedes an individual’s capacity to realize their potential where they remain productive citizens making a contribution to their community.
Therefore, in order to improve a population’s mental health, programmes have to be implemented to ensure effective treatment, prevention, and promotion.  Programs must be made available to all people who need them.  The time is ripe for an overview and intervention measures by all stakeholders with respect to where we stand as a country on mental health and mental illness. 
Roddy Heyliger