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Home Features Psychiatric nurse - ?Mental disorders are not controllable?

Psychiatric nurse – ?Mental disorders are not controllable?

What is Mental Health?

Mental Health is ?a state of emotional and psychological well-being in which an individual is able to use his or her cognitive and emotional capabilities, function in society, and meet the ordinary demands of everyday life.? (www.dictionary.com)

Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

Emotional and Behavioral disorders are often characterized as mental disorders and include, anxiety, severe depression, bipolar depression, attention deficit disorder (ADD), hyperactivity, autism, schizophrenia, eating disorders (bulimia and anorexia), conduct and learning disorders.

The most common disorders are anxiety and forms of depression.

The relationship between physical health and mental health

According to the coordinator of the Mental Health Service and psychiatric nurse, Augustina Elijio, persons who are physically unhealthy are also prone to become mentally unhealthy. In other words, persons who are experiencing a physical ailment like diabetes or heart complications are also at risk of experiencing some form of mental disorder, Elijio said. She explained that people who experience a drastic change in their life are not always able to cope with the change on their own and that the inability to cope with the change can lead to anxiety or depression. She used the example of someone that has been in a road accident and has lost the capacity to utilize both legs. In that case, the person could find it difficult to adjust their life style and could become extremely depressed.

In the case of a person that has heart complications and has suffered a massive heart attack, the burden of coping with the experience could lead to an anxiety disorder.

Elijio said that it is common for people to overlook the connection between a person?s physical health and their mental health. People often believe that if a person is physically healthy then they are also psychologically healthy as well, noted Elijio.

Mental Health v. Mental Illness

When differentiating between mental health and mental illness, Elijio said that most people automatically confuse the two, thinking that they are interchangeable. She remarked that Belizeans should not only become aware of their mental health when they must deal with a mental illness, but that they should practice techniques to cultivate and maintain a healthy mental state.

Two techniques that could be practiced to avoid disorders like anxiety and depression are learning ?coping skills? and stress management, Elijio noted.

Notably, most high schools nationwide offer their students counseling services and teach them ways to contend with stress and other adolescent experiences that could lead to the development of mental disorders, especially anxiety and depression.

Causes of Mental Disorders

There are a number of studies that suggest the reasons for the development of mental disorders. One suggestion is that mental disorders result from biological factors ? citing either genetics, a chemical imbalance, or damage to a person?s central nervous system as probable causes.

The other notable suggestion is that a person?s environment (or social factors) is responsible for the development of mental disorders. While a tertiary suggestion lends the possibility that it is a combination of the biological and the environmental factors that affords the development of mental disorders.

As for Elijio, she said that based on her observations, she believes that mental disorders could result from either or both, biological and or social factors. She justified her belief citing that she has found that some of her patients became mentally unhealthy for a wide range of reasons, such as sexual or physical abuse, physical illness, loss of a loved one, and in some cases, genetics ? where a patient?s family has a history of mental disorder(s).

She mentioned that one of the reasons Belizeans should take a special interest in mental health is the fact that mental illness, for the most part, is not controllable. Elijio said that even though a person might practice preventive measures like coping skills, there could also be a biological factor that causes the person to develop a mental disorder. For that reason, she said that it is very important for Belizeans to take a keener interest in learning about mental health and mental disorders.

General Perception of Mental Disorders in Belize

Elijio said that she has also observed that the general attitude Belizeans have toward mental health and mental disorders has been changing. It has gradually gone from stereotyping all forms of mental illness, as ?crazy? to a point where more Belizeans realize that there are various forms of mental illness that are not characterized by psychotic behavior.

Despite that evolution in attitude, Elijio pointed out that people who suffer from mental disorders are sometimes not given the amount of support they might need to recover from the disorder. She pointed out that when a person suffers from a physical condition, they are sent cards, flowers and are visited ? people empathize with them; but in the case of mental illness, Elijio said that those patients are ?laughed at? and become social outcasts. She said this is despite the two having the same components ? cause, treatment, and a need for a support system.

One development that Elijio was pleased to point out was that more people are seeking professional help or advice for mental disorders. There has been an increase in the number of ?walk-ins? at the clinics nationwide, Elijio commented.

Most of those who do seek help, however, are middle-aged females. Seeking professional help for a mental disorder is usually the last resort for most males, remarked Elijio. She feels that it is the cultural stigma that causes males to feel ashamed to admit that they have a mental disorder, because it has always been categorized as a sign of weakness.

In the case of adolescents, Elijio confirmed that most parents do not realize that their teenagers could be affected by a mental disorder. It is almost common place for teenagers to complain of ?being stressed? around final exams or a major event, or change in life style, like their parents getting a divorce. Still most parents, dismiss the pleas as unfounded, saying that it is impossible for a teenager to be ?stressed.?

Amandala spoke to a high school counselor who said that while it is not common for an adolescent to experience a mental disorder, it does happen. The counselor said that mostly, adolescent girls encounter eating disorders or anxiety in their senior year, when they are preparing for Caribbean Examinations (CXCs) and prom.

Signs of Mental Illness

These are some general signs that could signify that a person should seek professional advice:

-Abnormal or interrupted sleeping patterns (including restlessness and disturbing dreams)

-Trouble concentrating on daily activities

-Constant worry, irritability and anxiety

-Discontinuing activities that once were important or fun

-A short fuse, becoming easily enraged

-Having more energy as the day progresses

-Excessive gain/loss in weight

-Excessive drinking

-Consistently crying for no apparent reason


-Talking about death or suicide

Elijio suggested that parents or teachers who observe some of the signs listed above in a student?s or child?s behavior should not ignore them, and should ensure that the person talks to a councilor or psychiatric nurse.

Of significance, Elijio remarked that in some cases of suicide attempts, the desired result is not always death, but sometimes it is a cry for help or attention. Still, any suicide attempt should not be dismissed, the person should seek immediate professional help.


Before treatment can be administered to a person, an assessment must be conducted to ascertain what mental disorder the person is suffering from, and the severity of the disorder.

Treatment for a mental disorder then depends on the diagnosis given by a professional. The treatment can range from counseling, medication, or a combination of both, and in psychotic cases, admittance to a psychiatric clinic.

Aside from the above-mentioned modes of treatment, Elijio stressed that a support system must be in place if a person is expected to recover from a mental disorder. The support system could be composed of family, friends, or professionals.

Rock View Hospital

Formerly Sea View Hospital, the Rock View Hospital, is the only facility in Belize that caters to persons suffering from psychotic behavior.

Contrary to popular belief, the hospital has a high turnover, said Elijio, most of the patients that are admitted are released after they have been treated and could be cared for on a community level. She asserted that most patients do not have to be institutionalized in order to be treated, as in the case of some that are seen roaming the city?s streets.

She commented that those who are seen roaming the city?s streets are being cared for, as they receive treatment on a monthly basis, in some cases. She said that it was necessary to clarify that not all persons who roam the streets are mentally ill, some of them choose to be there, or are living on the streets for a different reason.

While the Rock View Hospital is not at the standard it should be, there are plans underway to relocate the operations to Belmopan. Elijio pointed out that the current location is inconvenient because they have to evacuate the hospital when there are floods, or when there is the hurricane threat.

Also, some of the elderly patients are not there because they could not be cared for outside of the hospital, but because their families refuse to care for them, or their families could not be contacted, Elijio emphasized.

Persons qualified to diagnose and treat mental disorders

Psychiatrist ? a medical doctor who is trained in treating mental disorders and can prescribe medication

Psychologist ? a person who has obtained a degree in psychology (not necessarily a doctorate) and can assess the type of therapy you need, and depending on their qualifications, they might be able to provide the necessary therapy

Psychiatric nurse ? a nurse who has gained additional training in psychiatry; they also could diagnose a mental disorder

Counselor ? trained in providing counseling skills and could give advice

Where can I go for help?

Most high schools have a counselor on staff and could help you sort out issues or give you a referral.

Most local clinics nationwide have a psychiatric nurse that is available or have services in place where they can refer you to a more qualified health care professional.

Elijio concluded the interview saying that mental health care has come a long way in Belize, but that we still have a long way to go.

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