CREATIVE SPACE #27 of 2021 (uploaded December 7th 2021)
CREATIVE SPACE is an award-winning series spotlighting local (Antiguan and Barbudan/Caribbean) art and culture. As a brand, it dates back to 2009, published exclusively in LIAT’s inflight magazine. It was revamped in 2018 and syndicated as of 2019 on Antiguanice.com. Its publishing partner, as of 2020, is the Daily Observer newspaper. It has its first print run in the paper every other Wednesday, with the online extended edition running here on the blog. It continues to expand across other media platforms (e.g. full interviews and extras on AntiguanWriter on YouTube). In 2021, the two–part mini-series on marine culture placed third in the OECS clean oceans journalists challenge. CREATIVE SPACE is created, owned, and written by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean author, journalist, producer, and freelance writer, editor, and trainer.
Here’s a link to the issue as it appeared in the Daily Observer newspaper on December 8th 2021:
Below is the extended online edition (not a duplicate of the edition with publishing partner Observer Media) with EXTRAS.
CREATIVE SPACE #27 OF 2021 – CREATING SPACE FOR MENTAL HEALTH
We are not okay. We are sometimes trying to grasp water with our bare hands, spilling some or most of it. We are human and fallible; and this long pandemic season has driven that home.
On November 8th 2021 when I sat with mental health advocate Chaneil Imhoff, it was with the goal of understanding and pointing to the resources available for people struggling with mental health at all levels of wellbeing and income levels in Antigua and Barbuda. In the end, I’m not sure I have a clear answer but the conversation did provide some context and understanding. Let’s review the tape.
Let’s start with Imhoff’s first encounter with, the System. “In 2019, I had some issues with my own mental health and tried to seek some assistance somewhere and I realized how difficult the intake process was and how little access people had to these systems… I thought of the persons who do not have the connections I do, who don’t maybe have the access to finance that I do.” The realization of how the level of difficulty goes up with the lack of those resources, and her firsthand experience of how inefficient and re-traumatizing the intake process can be was transformative. “I understand that there has to be a process for everything, but there are ways in which we can really streamline these processes to get people the help that they need and that’s one of the main things that I am trying to advocate for right now,” Imhoff said. The timing of her commitment to mental health advocacy couldn’t have been better – or worse – given the mental strain of the last two years and all of its medical, economic, social, and life and death fallouts.
“The COVID-19 has definitely exacerbated not only our physical health issues here but also our mental health issues,” Imhoff said. “People were isolated for a long time, everywhere is closed…people really got to sit down and be alone with themselves and alone with their thoughts.” The fallout, she indicated can range from a full mental break (the stereotype of the person running down the road “in your drawers”) to waking up worrying (“I don’t know where my next meal will come from”).
In order to make sense of where Antiguans and Barbudans are on this spectrum one of her interventions has been a baseline survey on mental health services in Antigua and Barbuda. “The point of it is to get an understanding about what people know about mental health, what people’s mental health needs are, so that my team and I can start to create programmes and suggest more policies to help people on their journey to mental wellness. Cause you can’t help people if you don’t know what their problems really are.”
Respondents have skewed younger and “a lot more women than men have been filling out the survey.” There are probably cultural explanations for some of this; having to do with how we are socialized to be or not be in touch with our feelings, much less talk about them, much less admit that we may not be coping – generally, and, the survey suggests, along gendered and generational lines as well.
“This is the exact reason why we need this survey,” Imhoff said. “If there was less stigma, if there was more access, you wouldn’t be feeling this way.” She urges hesitant respondents to push past the fear of vulnerability and take the survey – which is so far highlighting anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolarity, and body dismorphia among respondents’ main issues. “Think of it as helping yourself, and helping others in the future…we have to be the ones that are going to be helping ourselves because, clearly, nobody is really doing it.”
The good news is greater awareness about and more sensitivity to mental health – less judgment, more compassion though there could always be more (especially in terms of what we say and do to each other). “I’m very optimistic that the culture is shifting,” Imhoff said. “Persons are no longer accepting … people who would comment things like ‘people who commit suicides are selfish’. People would literally flame them in the comments and educate them and say ‘no, you can’t say that’, and give them the information; and it was very good to see that people were coming to the defense of these people and giving real facts and information to those who have that sort of mentality.”
The bad news, the cost of mental health care remains a hurdle. While there are a sizeable list of practitioners, published Imhoff said by Mental Health Talk Antigua, an online resource, Imhoff’s survey findings include that most respondents earn $35,000 or less. So one survey driven intervention already announced was the provision of free therapy sessions to five beneficiaries through Orchard Blue Counseling. It’s a step. There needs to be more steps – “nothing that is sustained and organized,” Imhoff said when asked about education around de-stigmatization and preventative care. “It is severely lacking.”
One recent initiative spearheaded by Imhoff was a toiletries drive for the Clarevue Psychiatric Hospital. ETA: but this is not that; this is of a bake sale she supported on her birthday in 2020.
While acknowledging deepening appreciation for mental health, Imhoff points to the need for a cultural shift, an awareness of moods and energies, a commitment to kindness and respect for each others’ humanity. “We need a holistic shift,” Imhoff said, challenging those in positions of power to challenge the status quo.
She added that mental health legislation, last updated in 1957, and dealing primarily with institutionalization, is overdue for modernization – something she has been working on since 2019 as a member of the youth parliament. “To ensure that people like nurses, doctors, firefighters, police officers, teachers, school nurses, those people, are mental health first aid trained; they should be able to spot a mental health issue…and be able to deescalate a situation …if they cannot deescalate there must be something in place for them to say…I’m having a mental health issue and the police don’t come and manhandle you.” Learning to spot the problem and respond appropriately is the challenge.
Imhoff recently shared the bill she worked on as a member of the youth parliament in a legislative workshop with the gender caucus in parliament – made up of women in the upper and lower house who have come together to address issues affecting women and other marginalized groups. “When it comes to mental health, I keep talking about intersectionality – young people, women, marginalized populations – these are the people that legislation and policies will really help.”
So, fingers crossed.
In the meantime, as Imhoff said, we have to continue to “have the difficult conversations” and do the work that needs to be done.
Joanne: I saw an old teacher of mine and right away my body went into eight year old Joanne mode when this teacher beat me…she hasn’t even seen me yet…so, when you said PTSD, I thought about some of the trauma from our childhood that was normalized.
Imhoff: I have had that exact experience. …grade 1, never forget…every time I see her my body tenses up and I remember. …that was the first time I ever got licks from a teacher.
Joanne: …we used to get licks for all kinds of things… the fact that we hold any kind of trauma in our bodies…is also to be expected I think.
…speaking about the body dismorphia…I mentioned women in particular because I know…especially when you cross that bridge from girlhood into womanhood, start puberty, your body starts to change and people start to feel free to comment on your body.
Imhoff: I remember giving birth and maybe a month after somebody commenting on my weight and I’m just like what do you want me to do, what do you want me to do, I just gave birth…what people don’t realize is you can say these things in gest, but especially when you’re young and going through puberty, your body is changing, you have to be very careful what you say…
Joanne: …because they’re forming their identities…
Imhoff: You don’t want them to grow up with that outlook of themselves. One thing that people used to always comment on for me was my complexion…’quarter past midnight’, all of those things, I had to go through all of those things…I still have some of the burden of persons commenting constantly on something I had no control over as a child especially and me not understanding that.
Joanne: …that’s a particular burden I think for Black people even in a Black community that we haven’t really fully excavated, this idea of colourism within our community and how it harms us… it’s all about proximity to whiteness… and it’s all a legacy of our enslavement and colonialism…all the ways in which we can make ourselves less Black has been part of our baggage to carry even within a space where we are majority Black.
Imhoff: Right, so that speaks to the intersectionality of mental health because women have different experiences, Black women have different experiences, men have different experiences, children have different experiences, and we have to ensure that the services and activities and programmes that are offered really tap in to the different experiences of all these different demographics. Of course, the LGBTQIA community have different experiences when it comes to mental health…we need to have that data to back up whatever sort of programmes we are putting in place.
Joanne: For me, I always say writing saved my life…The times when I’ve been at my lowest, if I was able to pick up a pen and write, I could kind of find my way out of the darkness and my darkest days this past year have been the times when I couldn’t find my way to the pen…art is therapy for me as much as it’s my business, as much as it’s my passion, it’s also the way I process life and that is why I say writing saved my life. …as long as I could express it, I could get up and breathe another day….what was it for you?
Imhoff: When I was quarantined this year for COVID-19, I started painting again…I couldn’t go anywhere; I, of course, could not really have visitors…at night it’s just me there alone with my thoughts. And I said…you can’t be advocating for other people’s mental health and want to neglect your own, what makes you happy? I picked up my canvas, I picked up a paint brush and paint…and every night while I’m quarantined, I created something, I made something, and it brought me back to feeling like myself. I didn’t just lay down in the bed and wallow… sometimes self-care is not always facials and manicures and pedicures, it’s talking to yourself hard and really taking accountability for yourself too.
Joanne: I want to also make space though for the people who found it difficult to do that…the artists who found it difficult to create this past year because part of what can increase your depression sometimes is seeing everyone else creating or living or doing and you can’t find your way to put one foot in front of the other. That can be mentally draining as well, just the, the sort of ‘if everybody else can, why can’t I’ ness of it all. …I struggled to pick up the pen this past year but I’m writing again so I’m happy about that. I’ve actually written a bit every day this month (November)…I know there are people who haven’t been able to create at all…we need to make space for that as well.
Imhoff: Being kind to yourself is also important but you have to know when you need to be kind to yourself, when you need to hold yourself accountable…if you realize, okay, I thought I was maybe just having writers’ block…you should be able to know, this is who I can go to to help me for this … I should instinctively know where to go and I should have access to that, no matter what my income bracket is.
Failings of the system
Imhoff: “Just simply the intake process alone, if you’re having a mental health emergency, it does not help the situation…you have to be medically cleared, so you have to do a bunch of tests, bloodwork, scans, etc. …I remember sitting in the asthma bay at the hospital…I got there after 11 in the morning …and did not get admitted until 2 a.m. the next day. I just sat back there staring at the wall alone with my thoughts. …at the time I simply could not have afforded to go to a professional.”
Imhoff also speaks about having to relay her story over and over to each new person, as people went off shift or she was sent on to someone else. “…and you’re reliving whatever trauma you experienced over and over.”
Is there a role for the church?
Imhoff: “I think the role that the church can play is providing a …safer space as opposed to telling persons ‘oh you just need to pray about it’, see how you can help. If you realize this person is under so much pressure because …they’ve lost their job and don’t know where their next meal is coming from, ‘how can we as a congregation help this person …can we put together a food basket and give it to them. can we help them to uprade their CV’…use the talents within your congregation to create a safe space for persons who look to you for guidance and help.
What’s our role?
Imhoff: “I just want to remind persons, it’s okay to not be okay…(and) Be the person you needed when you were younger…be kind, practice empathy, compassion, because you never know what somebody is dealing with.”
Chaneil supplied the following list of (paid) mental health services posted by Mental Health Talk Antigua, an online resource:
Specialty: Anger Management, Anxiety, Career/Guidance, Depression, Grief and Loss, Low self-esteem, Marriage and Couples Counseling, Relationships, Sexuality, Stress management, Trauma
Imagistic Counselling (Antigua)
Specialty: Creative Therapy, Substance misuse, Marriage/couple/family counselling, Career/ Guidance, Trauma and Stress management
Dr. Carolla Ellis
(268) 783-8336 / (268) 561-9625
Specialty: Family therapy, youths, Elderly
Specialty: Anxiety, Depression, Grief and Loss, Low self-esteem, Relationships, Stress management
Claudine Knox, Ms, NCC
New Beginnings Therapy
Dr. Jean-Machelle Benn-Dubois
(268) 726-3083 / (268) 771-3085
Specialty: Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, Relationships, Trauma
Specialty: Anxiety, Depression, Trauma, Grief and Loss
Specialty: Life Coaching, Stress Management, Relationship Counselling, Grief and Loss, Depression
Specialty: Children, Adolescents and Young Adults Therapy, Family and Couples Counselling, Children with Disabilities
Dr. Melesha Banhan
Specialty: Anger Management, Anxiety, Depression, Grief and Loss, Low Self-esteem, Marriage and Couples Counseling, Relationships, Spirituality, Stress management, Substance Misuse, Trauma
Regina A. Apparicio
Associate clinical Psychologist
Specialty: Youth, Anxiety, Depression, Low Self-esteem, Stress Management
Sequoyah Survia, MSW
Clinical Social Worker
Survia Consulting Services
Specialty: Dementia, Substance Abuse, Depression, Anxiety, Greif and Loss, PTSD
Mental Health Counsellor
Specialty: Spirituality, Addiction, Relationships
Tiffany Smith , Msc
Therapy With Tiffany
T’mira Looby MS, NCC
Founding and Primary Therapist
Transformation Through Therapy
Specialty: Trauma, Anxiety, depression, couples therapy
Mental Health Talk Antigua interview
Other Imhoff mental health links of interest:
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