Kamille Willis told the audience of a town hall meeting Friday that, “It is OK not to be OK,” when discussing mental health.
“I want them to know that it is OK to talk to a therapist” Willis said, when asked what inspired her to come up with the slogan “Aye you good” that adorned the shirts worn by members of the V.I. Department of Health at the gathering to discuss mental health.
The town hall featured a panel of local psychological experts, including Deputy Commissioner of Health for Public Health Services Nicole Craigwell-Syms, St. Thomas psychologist Sheena Walker, University of the Virgin Islands Adjunct Psychology Professor David Cannonier and Dionne Simmonds, a mental health technician at Insight Mental Health Services. They discussed mental and behavioral health including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and the stigma attached to mental illness in the U.S Virgin Islands.
One audience member asked for one of the coping mechanisms for anxiety. Walker talked about a breathing technique called the “4,7,8” in which individuals breathe in for four seconds, hold it in for seven seconds and then releases it for eight seconds, as if they are breathing out through a straw. She recommended repeating this process a couple times.
When asked what inspired the Department of Health to hold the event, Kwane Barthlett Jr., a mental health and substance abuse outreach worker with the department, said there is a need for it in the V.I. He said it was important for behavioral health to be more visible in the Virgin Islands, to allow islanders to have an outlet and the ability to ask the necessary questions to those who can help them with behavioral health.
“Seeing a counselor is a good thing” Cannonier said.
The Health Department’s division of mental health is working to eventually have town hall panel discussions once a month on a Thursday. The Health Department wants the community to know that it is OK to want to talk to someone and that no one is alone. Mental and behavioral health is not a one-man show, and it does not affect one person, but all.
They also are creating and planning more projects, looking for volunteers who can help with developing the community’s behavioral and mental health.
Editor’s note: Nour Z. Suid was born and raised in the Virgin Islands. She graduated with a doctorate in clinical psychology and is working on a doctorate in naturopathic medicine. She works on St. Thomas as a therapist with individuals of all ages to help those with mental illnesses.