‘Abused because I am mentally ill’
October 20, 2006

‘Abused because I am mentally ill’

Michelle Marks is from the area of Rose Place in the capital Kingstown. On casual observation, she appears normal. However she is encountering some problems which have to do with her state of health. Since 1994, Michelle has been suffering from bi-polar disorder – a mood disorder.

Her situation was not diagnosed until 1999, because as she puts it, her condition was “very hard to diagnose”.{{more}}

Symptoms of the illness are two fold: Sometimes she is depressed and prone to suicidal tendencies; at other times she is hyperactive and goes for days without sleeping but still has a lot of energy. Between the two extremes, the mood is normal.

Michelle however is adjusting to her condition and expects to start a job as a tour guide in November.

The disease has been stabilised through use of medication.

“It’s much better now,” she told a rally during the recent Mental Health Week.

She appealed to citizens to treat persons with mental illness with more sympathy.

“They used to call me crazy,” she recalled, pointing to a mark on her right elbow, the impact of a blow with a stone inflicted by someone who thought that persons in her condition should be banished and treated as the worst criminal.

“People lashed me and so-called friends would keep away from me,” Michelle added.

She was also verbally abused because she was perceived to be mentally ill.

She chilled her audience when she said: “I want people to know, it could happen to anybody, so they must care for persons who are mentally ill or who have this disease.”

The events saw a Road Show, which journeyed from Redemption Sharpes to the interior of capital city Kingstown, and ended with a rally in the Central Leeward Town of Barrouallie.

The caravan stopped in Campden Park, Clare Valley, Vermont and Layou.

Michelle was one of the feature speakers at Tuesday’s event.

She owes a debt of gratitude and showed signs of admiration for Dr Amrie Morris, the Senior Registrar at the Mental Health Centre.

“She keeps in touch with me,” Michelle said which boosted her confidence and now she is able to handle negative comments.

Dr Morris echoed some of the Michelle’s thoughts.

“Mental illness is an illness like any other. We need to have more compassion for people who are mentally ill. As a community, we need to lift the burden of stigma that is brought to bear on people with mental illnesses,” she said.

World Mental Health Day, October 10, is observed internationally, but is part of a week of activities held locally.

This year’s theme was: “Building Awareness: reducing risks. Mental illness, drug abuse and HIV/AIDS”.

Dr Morris drew the correlation between mental illness, drug abuse and HIV/AIDS.

She cited that drug abuse and mental illness impaired one’s judgment.

Having HIV/AIDS, as well as suffering from drug abuse “predisposes you to developing mental problems like depression, anxiety and psychosis” she added.

She expressed satisfaction with the communities’ response to the mental health awareness campaign, describing it as “welcoming” and mentioned that persons in the different districts were able to point out persons whom they thought needed medication.

Dr Morris is hoping that a similar awareness drive proceeds to the Windward end of the mainland before year-end.