We need more psychologists, says Mental Health Coordinator, Eleanor Bennett
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Aug. 16, 2018– When 7-year-old Antwone Marin committed suicide in Seine Bight earlier this month, it shocked the nation and led to a lot of questions. Perhaps the most resounding question has to be: how could a child that young develop the desire and intention to end his own life?
Turning for answers to the haunting questions that remain in the aftermath of that disturbing suicidal act, we asked psychiatric nurse, Eleanor Bennett, who is the Mental Health Coordinator at the Ministry of Health, for comment.
“We don’t normally get them that young,” she said. “It’s very rare. I won’t say that it never happens. It has happened, obviously. But it’s very rare that you get children that young committing suicide,” she remarked. Bennett said that statistics at the Ministry of Health show cases of suicide by children as young as 12 years old.
We asked Bennett about the kind of counseling services the Ministry of Health provided, and is providing, for the family of Antwone.
Bennett, after noting that that is not her department, went on to say, “but we have offered our services, and the Department of Human Services is still investigating the case. We don’t want to bombard them, but there is an open invitation for them to come and talk to a counselor.”
We asked Bennett how Belize compares, from a mental health standpoint, with the rest of countries in the region.
“The only solid numbers we have are for suicides, and why we have numbers for that is because every suicide has to be recorded,” Bennett said.
“On an annual basis, how many suicides are committed in Belize?” we asked Bennett.
Bennett said that it varies. She said that in 2016, 18 persons in Belize died by suicide, in 2015 there were 26 cases, and in 2014 there were 25.
We asked her how Belize compares with the rest of the region in terms of the availability of mental health professionals.
Bennett said that we need to train more health care professionals in the area of mental health. “The World Health Organization has a number that they are looking at per hundred-thousand,” she said. “We have enough nurses per hundred-thousand, but psychologists, we don’t have. We have two doctors in training, and one is going to study psychiatry,” said Bennett.
Bennett explained that there is a difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. She said that psychiatry is a “specialty” for a doctor. “A psychiatrist is first a doctor,” she said. “Once a person goes to medical school and gets a basic medical degree, once they complete that, they have to go back to school to train to become a psychiatrist, which is another 3 to 4 years,” she said.
“A psychologist is not a doctor,” she explained. She said that “one big difference is that a psychiatrist can prescribe medicine, but a psychologist cannot.”
The basic difference between a psychologist and psychiatrist is that a psychologist treats patients by counseling, while a psychiatrist treats patients with medications.
Bennett also explained that that there are different kinds of counseling that people can undergo. She told us that there is psychotherapy, which is a “kind of counseling that takes months and months.” Also, “there are people who study behavior; in that case, you don’t stay in therapy that long. They teach you how to manage your symptoms. Maybe they don’t cure, but they teach you how to not allow your symptoms to affect you,” Bennett noted.
Bennett told us that we need to do some studies to find the motivating factors that trigger suicide in our young people.
“That needs study,” she said. “The numbers are easy, but to find out the exact cause why people kill themselves, it differs in people. So, what we would have to do is to go back to the families and find out what was going on at the time. Studies show that the main reason why young people kill themselves is because they have another mental illness, for example depression or anxiety,” said Bennett.
“A lot of them have what we call a personality disorder,” Bennett said. She said another important risk factor for many people is that they have “relationship problems as well, with their parents or their friends, and are victims of bullying.”