The low-light of my 2013 involved a medical emergency, which (mercifully, everyone assured me) took place in the UK, simultaneously destroying my long awaited vacation and proving my favourite Lucian saying that “every disappointment is a blessing”. The blessing was the National Health Service, much maligned in Britain for many complex reasons, but appreciated by me for the excellent, professional and free care I received after walking into Sussex County Hospital in Brighton with a face the size of a breadfruit and a fever of 103 degrees.
The gory details aren’t important, but after twenty years of living in my adopted home of Saint Lucia, with everything that entails in medical terms, I was awestruck by the amount of information that was bombarded at me along every step of my journey, from the nurses and anaesthesiologists and the maxillo-facial specialists that drove through the night to check me over, right up to the final outpatient appointment when I collected a handful of leaflets on topics I simply wanted to know more about.
Everyone I met in the emergency room, the operating theatre and the women’s ward were falling over themselves to make sure I, the patient, understood what was about to happen, what I would feel as the general anaesthetic took effect, what my drugs were and exactly how I should take them.
At an absolutely terrifying time in my life, I realised the value of information, and was reassured by the ability to ask questions, however ignorant or silly they may have seemed. And I’m well aware that this effusive education of the patient is as much about the litigation culture that has sprung up around the NHS over the years, but the assurance provided to this enquiring mind was all I cared about.
So when I realized it was Mental Health Awareness Month in the UK, I got to researching what online resources are available
on the subject of Depression. With suicide rates on the rise, the constant question as to why Caribbean citizens are killing themselves is heard each time a tragedy occurs, but research into what is in actual fact a global trend recurrently shows a link with depression in those who take their own lives. Perhaps I would pick up some solid facts and information from the system which seems to exist to inform.
In fact I came across a series of leaflets from the charity Depression Alliance including one called “Depression and Young People”, which immediately grabbed my attention given that young Chakadan Daniel’s name is rarely far from our minds in the STAR Editorial office, along with the fifteen year old girl whose mother caught her just in time to prevent a suicide attempt in November and all the other cases which saddened our island last year, right up to the very last day.
The first statistic that drew my eye was the rate of depression in UK kids under 12, just 2%, although a horrifying enough thought: in teenagers, the leaflet claims the number rises to 5%, or one in five adolescents.
Wondering how that compares to our regional statistics, I grabbed my recently found copy of a 2012 Caribbean study by CAPMH.com (Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health) which looked at depression levels in almost 2000 teenagers from four countries: Jamaica, Bahamas, St Kitts & Nevis and St Vincent. Just over 52% were girls, just under 46% were boys, aged between 12 and 19 years old with a median age of 15.3 years.
The study is a fascinating piece of work, full of statistical interpretation and theories, but within the first few words of the abstract I was completely stunned by the outline of the results: “52.1% of all adolescents reported mild to severe symptoms of depression with 29.1% reporting moderate to severe symptoms of depression.”
Really? Fifty per cent of the 2000 Caribbean teenagers in the study suffer from depression compared to the quoted 5% of five and a half million UK teens? How can almost a third of them suffer from moderate to severe symptoms? Who are these children and how did the UWI researchers come up with their numbers? And if we extrapolate the Caribbean study and try to estimate the number of depressed teenagers we have in Saint Lucia, what sort of numbers would that throw up?
Well I’ll tell you: If the CAPMH study is representative of the average, and 50% of our teenagers suffer from mild to severe depression, we’re talking about thousands of Saint Lucian kids in need of help, care, treatment and protection in the most progressed cases.
Depressed kids harm themselves; they develop eating disorders, they drink excessively, take drugs, cut themselves and get into dangerous behaviours because of the condition. Depressed teenagers don’t communicate, they lose interest in school, behave anti-socially and isolate themselves from friends and family. And they commit suicide.
Sound familiar? Scary isn’t it?
So what are the causes? Believe me, if Saint Lucia is heading along the same trend as Jamaica and Saint Vincent, the implications of the report will terrify you.
In Saturday’s STAR, more from the CAPMH Caribbean study of depression in teenagers, and the researchers’ conclusion that bad parenting has everything to do with this mental health epidemic.