We were deeply troubled to hear police warn recently that mental health crises are on the rise in the territory after they rescued a hospital patient from the water in Road Harbour.
However, we were not surprised.
Residents, after all, have been under incredible stress in recent years. Many had not recovered from Hurricane Irma when Covid-19 hit in March 2020.
Besides the obvious health concerns that everyone has faced since then, many have also lost loved ones and struggled with financial burdens, unemployment, loss of opportunities for recreation and socialising, and many other problems too numerous to list in this small space.
Such issues could pose a serious threat to anyone’s mental well-being. And even at the best of times, the Virgin Islands does not have a stellar record of properly handling mental illness, which is often stigmatised in this community.
As a result, many residents attempt to hide serious maladies like depression instead of getting the treatment they need. And people with severe mental illnesses have been neglected, mistreated, or even shunted in and out of the prison system because the territory lacks capacity to give them better care.
To be fair, the overall situation has been changing for the better in recent decades thanks to education campaigns and other hard work by the territory’s mental health professionals and their supporters. But there is still a long way to go.
The government, then, should redouble efforts to build on the mental health services it already offers. The schools are a good place to start: More comprehensive counselling programmes, for instance, would likely prove invaluable for many young people.
Social programmes of all stripes are crucial as well. Even when they aren’t focused directly on mental health, they can help ease stress by relieving financial burdens and other hardships.
Government can’t do it alone, of course, and during the pandemic many non-profit organisations thankfully have stepped up to fill the oftentimes very wide gaps left by the public sector.
Churches also have an important role to play by supporting their congregants and other community members, and businesses must do all they can to support their employees’ physical and mental well-being alike.
Finally, all residents must take care of themselves and their friends and family members. This means exercising, eating right, and taking time out to relax and enjoy life every now and then.
The fact that police are reporting a spike in mental health crises is a red flag that suggests that preventive programmes are falling short.
The community must work together to respond.