General — 18 October 2013 — by Albert J. Ciego
Mental Health Day celebrated in Belize

Today over one hundred countries are observing the 21st annual World Mental Health Day under this year’s theme, “Mental health and older adults.” The international observance is funded by the World Federation for Mental Health and supported by the World Health Organization. Today, October 10, the occasion was marked at the Mental Health Resource Center by a balloon release and a ceremony attended by 75 people, including Dr. Peter Allen, Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Health; Dr. Gerardo Decosio, PAHO and WHO Country Representative; Lindy Jeffrey, Executive Director of the National Council on Ageing; and Eloisa Hassan, Miss Y Belize 2013, among many others. The ceremony started about 10:30 this morning with a welcoming address by Eleanor Bennett, Nurse in charge of the Mental Health Program in the Ministry of Health, while Eloisa Hassan, Miss Y Belize, spoke about overcoming challenges in life and Lindy Jeffrey gave the keynote address.

On speaking on this year’s theme for World Mental Health Day, Hassan told the audience that people can maintain good mental health as they age. They must have faith in God, pray regularly, continue to take in knowledge and do things for themselves. Exercise, a good diet, engaging in hobbies and helping others also contribute to a resilient mental condition, she noted. Hassan went on to admit that mental health is a challenge, but encouraged seniors to accept the challenge, seek the means to resolve the challenge, learn and gain strength from the situation, then help another person. Helping is giving and God blesses kindness, she said. There are those who experience sexual, mental, emotional or physical abuse, which can cause mental problems, Hassan stated, but she urged those suffering from such problems to talk to trustworthy individuals, or a counselor, and to engage in physical activities. She emphasized that people must do things for themselves and be positive.

In his speech Dr. Decosio said that many factors cause mental illness, which includes depression. One of the major causes of such illness is the stress of poverty, especially when elderly citizens do not have the means to meet needs, and/or are homeless. This stress is compounded when they are excluded, or are treated as if they are unworthy, he noted. He urges the community to help the elders and show kindness to them. He also urges society to be of greater support to senior citizens to give them a sense of belonging and self-worth.

Lindy Jeffrey commented that elderly people, when given the opportunity, are creative and resourceful. She encourages the community to form a support network to enable senior citizens to socialize and exercise, and also to talk. She said the Belmopan Senior Steppers is a success story. Efforts are being made to establish a similar program in every district, Jeffery informed. Jeffrey said that she would like the assistance of a physical training instructor to guide the senior citizens in exercises at the Mental Health Resource Center on Vernon Street, but there is a shortage of funds and the trainer must be willing to train the elderly ones for free. She announced that senior citizens of Belize City can look forward to a program in the near future.

Joyce Ellis said that the Mental Health Resource Center is a support for older ones and for homeless people who can get a meal and take a bath. They can meet and socialize instead of being isolated and becoming depressed, she said.

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