Growing up in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, in the heart of the West Indies, amidst the lush greenery and vibrant colours, lies darkness only a few chose to speak about openly. It was the silence that fell over villages when familiar faces started acting strangely. It was the mocking laughter and unforgiving and cruel name calling directed at anyone who didn’t quite fit in. Mental illness wasn’t just a taboo, it was absolutely terrifying. As a school boy I also joined the group of young people who mocked those we labelled as “crazy people” throwing stones of judgement without second thoughts and literally chasing them off with everything we could find lying about the streets.

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Then there was “mental home” or popularly known as “crazy home,” a place to be feared and stay far away from. Families would secretly take their crazy loved ones there, hoping to hide the shame from prying eyes. We avoided crazy home at all costs, as if madness was a contagious disease waiting to infect anyone who dares to come close. It was a place for the outcast, people shunned by society and left to fend for themselves.

Pedro Scott on Issue 23

Another interesting thread that was woven into the fabric of mental illness stigma back then was its association with witchcraft or voodoo, more popularly known as obeah. In our villages, people with erratic behaviour was evidence of some supernatural retribution on them for wrong they did in their lifetime. If you cross a neighbour, the whispered warning was clear, they will put a curse on you that will drive you to madness. This was further fuelled the warning to keep your distance from the mentally ill person. Seeing someone rambling incoherently on the streets didn’t just signal a darker presence but it widened the divide between “us” and “them,” which reinforced the stigma surrounding mental health in our culture.

The combination of superstition and mental health stigma only helped perpetuate the silence and isolation that surrounded individuals suffering from mental illness. It added another layer of complexity to an already twisted web of fear and misunderstanding.

I believed the lies until when I became an adult and witnessed my own father developed Alzheimer’s disease. My perspectives shifted in ways I never imagined. As I watched him deteriorate before my eyes, the illusions I held on to for years were shattered. It wasn’t “crazy people” who suffered. It was real people with families who loved them and hearts that broke with every forgotten memory.

The stigma surrounding mental health have lost its power over me as I grappled with the harsh reality of my father’s decline. Through it all, I learned the true meaning of compassion, empathy and the importance of breaking the silence that surrounds mental health in our society.

Pedro SCOTT
Author: Pedro SCOTT

Senior Executive Contributor | Bioprocess Engineer with Postgraduate Degrees in Bioanalytical Chemistry and Clinical Risks Management | Biopharmaceutical Processing and Quality Assurance Professional with a Solid background in Lean Six Sigma.

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