He is just in his twenties and he has already lost his mind.”

I remember moving as a child and meeting my new neighbours. One person who made quite an impression was the young man who lived in the big house behind me. He was always pleasant and kind and a broad smile would emanate whenever he saw someone. He sang beautifully; his clear tenor tone would awaken sleeping emotions in the otherwise still and quiet village.

A few days later I saw him- there was no smile. His voice was harsh as he shouted and chased Annie Palmer, his villain. He was arguing with someone beside him, whom it seems only he could see. He spoke of things too bizarre even for a child’s imagination, as he held discourse about marrying God’s only daughter.

The next day he seemed stoic. He appeared dazed, lost and cold even though the heat was sweltering. I was mesmerized by the things I had seen.  I was hypnotized as I was wrapped up in my thoughts that were about what he may have been thinking.  It was then that I asked my mother what was wrong with him and she said those words, “He is just in his twenties and he has already lost his mind.” “Doctor say him schizo and the medicine will tranquilize him.”

What does Schizo mean? How did he catch it? Could he get better? Those questions racked my mind and it was at that point I wanted to be a doctor that would cater to needs like his. I wanted to understand the mechanism of his illness, as the answers I got from my elders weren’t satisfactory.

“Is duppy de pon him”, “Is the sins of him and his generations cause it”, “Is because him take up the world on him head” were some of the reasons I got from my elders which got me searching for real answers. Some 15 years later, I am still not a doctor, but I am in the helping profession with a specialization in mental health.

I now know what schizo is. It is short for schizophrenia, a mental illness that causes delusions which is not the sole cause of unusual behavior in persons. I now know that there are a range on mental illnesses and they are all on a spectrum, as they all range from mild to severe and they are NOT contagious.

I also know that my elders were wrong. Mental illness is not due to demon possession or a result of sins that one or their family members commit. It is caused by a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors.

I can now inform people that mental illnesses happen at all ages and stages in life.  Autism, ADD and ADHD are mental illnesses usually first diagnosed in children. Anorexia and Bulimia affects mostly teenagers, especially teenage girls and Alzheimer’s affects older persons.

I have learned that these illnesses can be managed naturally or with the aid of prescription medication. I can tell persons the importance of good mental health practices and some ways in which we can cater to our mental health needs. Jogging, listening to soothing music (Evanescence doesn’tmental health help) and talking to someone who we trust can give our bodies a ‘proper sort out’ that will release endorphins that will have us feeling good.

Think about it… How do you take care of your mental health?