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St. Thomas – The Committee on Health, Hospitals and Human Services, chaired by Sen. Nereida, hosted a Mental Health Forum at that Capitol Building on Wednesday, to discuss the impact of mental illness and other disabilities have on residents in the Territory.


“The Mental Health Forum is a culmination of two nights in which panellists have an opportunity to share their professional and personal experiences. Initially, it was a part of the agenda of this Committee in a very broad sense and narrowed down by drafting legislation. Unfortunately, progress was delayed due to Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria,” said Sen. O’Reilly.


Similarly, Sen. Janette Millin Young shared her sentiments. “Generally, people are moved by Mental Health because it touches the hearts of many. We are here tonight to contribute to this process.”


Some of the items addressed by panellists include how to identify warning signs and symptoms, exploring mental illness, trauma and substance abuse and practical ways to manage mental illness.


Derek Spencer, Doctor at Island Therapy Solutions stated that in the mainland, education, health and social services work closely together to address the issue of Mental Health. However, this is not the case in the Territory. “People in power do not contribute sufficiently to this matter. Mentally ill people should receive basic care and there is absolutely nothing here. There is no cohesiveness of services and medications to treat patients are very expensive.”


The Department of Health has spent a great deal of time educating the community on the differences between chronic mental health such as depression and mental health disorders stated Felicia Blyden, Commissioner of the Department of Health (DOH). Some mental health disorders can be caused by trauma in an individual’s life such as the loss of a parent, caring for an ageing parent, isolation and being suicidal.


“Often, there are people who gravitate towards substance abuse as a means of eradicating trauma,” said Berlina Wallace-Berube from the Department of Health. “DOH provides a variety counseling services that are confidential. However, there are people who shun away from receiving care because of the negative stigma attached to Mental Illness. There is nothing shameful about asking for help.”


Panellists included the Health Service Advisory Group, Department of Health, Disability Rights Center of the Virgin Islands, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Dr. Spencer, Kia Griffith, and Dawn O’Bryan.