Conversations about mental health challenges are often held in whispers, but leaders in the Virgin Islands community spoke out loudly and proudly on Feb. 25 during a fashion-forward fundraiser gala at the Governor’s House.
Attendees contributed more than $16,000 through a silent auction and individual donations, all going toward the establishment of a scholarship in memory of former Harneys Asia Managing Partner Jonathan Matthew Culshaw, who died by suicide in 2018. The law firm partnered with psychologist Dr. Virginia Rubaine and her team at Community Mental Health Services to set up a scholarship in his name with the funds raised at the gala.
The scholarship is expected to support the studies of up to two H. Lavity Stoutt Community College students majoring in a mental health-related field who plan to offer their expertise back to the VI community.
Dr. Rubaine thanked Harneys for its support and shared a few words about Mr. Culshaw.
“He was a force to be reckoned with,” she said. “He touched many lives and will continue to touch the lives of young people who are interested in studying mental health.”
Harneys attorney Peter Tarn said that his law firm partner and friend didn’t share outward signs of depression before his death. Mr. Tarn added that he hoped the gala would serve as an impetus for opening up conversations about mental health in the community, and that the scholarship will help promote meaningful change in the VI.
Gala attendees dressed in Wakanda-themed attire and took turns bidding on items including art, restaurant vouchers, a stay at Necker Island, and guided excursions.
Allington “Gumption” Creque donated two trips from Sea It Clear Tours despite high demand for the company’s nearly sold-out season this year.
He said he wanted to offer a “magical experience for a magical cause.”
He also noted how many people in the community have faced tough times in recent years, experiencing it himself last summer.
“Mental health should be everyone’s business,” he said.
Throughout the evening, Dr. Rubaine also welcomed community members to the microphone to share stories about their experiences with mental health issues.
Last July, CMHS announced a partnership with Public Health England and the London-based charity Mind UK to address the stigma surrounding mental health.
BVI Health Services Authority administrative office assistant Gevonie Percival said events like the gala are designed to encourage conversations about mental health.
“Everyone is so closed up about how they are feeling and how their mental health affects them,” she said.
“We want to talk about it. We want everyone to talk about mental health and their coping mechanisms. “We want people to be able to say, ‘I have anxiety’ or ‘I am suffering from depression’ and not be ashamed to speak about it.”
She said more events including family game days are coming this year, and a full schedule will be posted on the campaign website set to launch soon.
These activities include Tortola and the sister islands, she added.