May 1, 2007 — Stressing the need for collaboration and interconnectivity of services, the Division of Mental Health Services kicked off National Mental Health Month in the territory Tuesday with an open house at the Charles Harwood Medical Complex.
Mental health advocates from a variety of private and government-sponsored programs came together to speak about programs to assist those with mental illnesses, as well as the gaps in services that allow many in need to slip through the cracks.
Several speakers shared their personal stories that told of the challenges and achievements of living with the stigma of mental illness and related disorders.
Keynote speaker first lady Cecile deJongh shared her experience as the parent of a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In order for an ADHD child to achieve, deJongh said parents need to provide the child with additional coping skills and pay close attention to their school work and social activities. Getting involved in a circle of support is also important, deJongh said.
"No parent should have to forge on your own," said deJongh. "Sometimes you are at your wit's end." DeJongh said she helped establish a school-based program that helped identify learning problems in children and was open to students from all schools. Additionally, she constantly monitored her child's progress in the classroom, helping teachers understand what was needed to provide the best learning environment for her child.
"Our children slip through the cracks, and we have to be advocates ," de Jongh said. I tell my child, ADHD is an "explanation, not an excuse."
Juan Luis Hospital Director Dr. Kendall Griffith said although a child may be diagnosed with ADHD and present challenges to parents and teachers, they can still achieve great things.
"ADHD is like a raging fire, and if you channel that fire appropriately, you can send a rocket to the moon," Griffith said.
Dr. Phyllis Wallace, Department of Health acting commissioner, expressed confidence in the deJongh administration to advance the cause of mental health issues in the territory. "The administration has been very supportive of DOH and especially mental health," Wallace said. She then announced the hiring of a full-time psychiatrist who will provide a higher level of care for V.I. patients. She said the candidate was "a native-born Virgin Islander" who was returning to work in the territory.
Dr. Rita Dudley-Grant, V.I. Behavioral Services clinical director, made an impassioned plea for one of her patients, who apparently slipped through the cracks of the system. Dudley-Grant said her patient was a depressed and suicidal adolescent who cannot get the treatment she desperately needs because an "inter-agency agreement has excluded children with mental health issues." She explained the territory does not have a residential facility for youth with these types of problems and because of government restrictions, cannot be placed in off-island facilities through the government.
"When are we going to get out of wonderland and create the kind of services that these children need," asked Dudley-Grant.
Women's Coalition of St. Croix Co-director Clema Lewis talked about the correlation between mental illness, sexual assault and domestic violence. She said most victims of sexual assault and domestic violence suffer from depression and "post-traumatic stress disorder".
A similar connection can be found in persons in the territory living with HIV/AIDS, said Bruce Smail, executive director of VI Community AIDS Resource & Education, Inc. (VICARE). The stigma has a direct impact on the mental health of the victims, said Smail, who is HIV positive.
"I knew when I was young my brain was wired differently," said Lorraine V. Quinton former anchorperson for ABC affiliate WSVI-Channel 8. Quinton, who is bipolar, said she suffered from a learning disorder, ADHD and experienced sexual abuse as a child.
She said the Virgin Islands needs to do more for victims of mental illness.
"Quit traumatizing our children. Quit traumatizing our prisoners. Quit traumatizing our community and give the people the services they need," Quinton said.
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