‘Therapy saved me’

WHETHER it’s because some people believe they can handle emotional distress and mental health problems on their own or due to the stigma associated with seeking help, many people will never access therapy in their lifetime.

But businesswoman and philanthropist Beverly Nichols — a Clarendon native and resident of New York in the United States — is encouraging people who need help with their mental health to try therapy, also called psychotherapy or talk therapy, without hesitation.

Psychotherapy, according to non-profit academic medical centre Mayo Clinic, is a general term for treating mental health problems by talking with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health providers.

“Therapy is a good thing, and it saved me,” Nichols told the Jamaica Observer in an interview. “So, I encourage people who may need to, to get it.”

She told Your Health Your Wealth that, for years, while attending college in the United States, she would experience chronic anxiety and feel out of place. Nichols said, at the time, she wasn’t aware that her childhood experiences were the reason behind the problems she was having.

“In college I didn’t feel like I fit in and I didn’t know I needed therapy, because I was a bright student. My professor would say to me, ‘Beverly, you are so quiet in class, and when you write, it makes so much sense; your writing is the best.’ But I was afraid to put up my hand [in class] because a little voice in my head was saying, ‘You didn’t go to high school; you don’t belong in college.’

“I’d keep hearing that voice, and I’d have sweaty palms. Even though I knew the answer to the question they were talking about, my hands couldn’t go up; I was trembling [because] I was so extremely nervous,” Nichols recounted.

Explaining that she was able to attend college overseas after taking night classes in Jamaica, because a relative with whom she lived didn’t allow her to attend high school, Nichols said she spoke to a therapist in order to have a normal college experience.

“I had to go get therapy in order to fit in at college. The therapist is just there to listen to you talk about your problems. When I got into therapy, [I thought] it was the job that I was doing that was strenuous, but I realised that I wasn’t talking about the job [with the therapist], I was talking about my childhood and how this woman never sent me to high school,” the businesswoman, who owns Beverly’s Home Health Care Inc, which covers the five boroughs of New York City and Nassau County, shared.

Today, she helps Jamaican students through providing scholarships and bursaries and contributes to various health-related initiatives, one of the most recent being the gifting of US$25,000 to 74 front-line health-care workers directly involved in the fight against COVID-19 in Jamaica for their personal use.

In 2018, she had also donated US$1 million for major expansion and upgrade of the Chapelton Community Hospital in Clarendon.

Why you should get help

According to the World Health Organization, globally, less than half of the people who meet the diagnostic criteria for psychological disorders are identified by doctors, which means less than half of those who need psychological help actually get it.

Consultant Psychiatrist Dr E Anthony Allen, speaking on the importance of talking to a therapist, said mental health issues are not rare in the Jamaican society.

“The first thing you need to realise is that mental health problems are not rare. One would predict that at least 30 per cent of the population would, at some time, have had mental health problems. We also find that some people have a genetic disposition [that] developed chemical imbalance in the brain that may cause depression or anxiety, or other types of psychological problems. It could be due to stress, it could be due to how the brain functions… Not only do you have the suffering of mental health itself, but one can have physical suffering — all of these are reasons why one should seek help,” Dr Allen told Your Health Your Wealth.

Dr Allen said, in most cases, once an individual seeks help, that person is going to be able to achieve relief and function better.

“What is important is to work along with the professional to carry out the method that is recommended. It is really a sign of wisdom to seek help,” he insisted.

The consultant psychiatrist also said it is important to speak to a therapist once the mental burden becomes unbearable, because mental ill-health can interfere with one’s physical health and can worsen illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension.

He pointed out that the availability of therapy in Jamaica, despite there being mental health clinics in most of the parishes, might contribute to some individuals not getting the help they need. Dr Allen advised the public to refrain from stigmatising those who are seeking therapy.

“The Government has provided mental health clinics in most of the parishes, so anybody in Jamaica should be able to get access to mental health clinics; they should be able to see a mental health professional. However, we have challenges for psychotherapy and counselling, and we need much more locations where persons can have psychotherapy and counselling… Also, we should really avoid stigma, because none of us is exempt from stress. None of us is exempt from the possibility of biological problems in our brain; anybody could have mental health issues at some stage in their lives,” he told Your Health Your Wealth.

Dr Allen said, too, that people who are ignorant on the issue are the ones who are more likely to stigmatise those seeking help, and there needs to be more public education to counter this.

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