“Do not condemn the addict; they need help.”
These words were articulated by Michael Andre as the conversation on Mental Health continued at St Charles Borromeo RC, with a focus on “the family of the addict”.
Andre, Outreach Coordinator of Rebirth House was invited by Fr Ian Taylor and the Ministry of Consolation of St Charles RC, to be an integral part of their second conversation on Mental Health, hosted Tuesday, September 17 at the church’s parish hall.
A recovering addict himself, Andre engaged participants as he recounted his life as an addict and his journey to becoming a recovering addict. Describing his pattern of behaviour, he lamented the grief he caused his mother and family members. Andre emphasised that addiction is a family disease in that while the addict is out “enjoying” life the parents, especially mothers are unable to sleep and the entire family lives with the fear of receiving “bad news”.
He continued that the addict may despise himself and deep within would like to stop using the addictive substance; however, once he obtained another “fix” that thought process totally dissipates. He acknowledged that this was part of his reality as his mother prayed incessantly, his family sought professional help and employed several interventions but to no avail.
Andre’s journey to recovery began in the dark of night several years later when he was at rock bottom dwelling on the streets of San Fernando. That night he became fearful that the flashing lights he saw in the distance were the police. Overwhelmed by the thought of being arrested and incarcerated again, he contemplated suicide.
Instead, he listened to an inner voice that led to him to pray and flee the streets. With no known destiny in mind he continued walking and praying until he realised that he was on the highway where he managed to get a lift to Port of Spain. Recalling that a friend told him that he was at Rebirth House, he sought directions from passers-by and made his way there. Twenty-one years later Michael Andre, a recovering addict is now the Outreach Coordinator.
Before closing, Andre responded to several questions and concerns from among the participants and highlighted the work of Rebirth House.
The conversation deepened as Mental Health Consultant Dr Carl Ryan continued the discourse on the topic ‘Maintaining your mental health/coping skills for the family’. In his presentation Dr Ryan shared that addiction had its basis in mental health. He defined mental health in generic terms as the general health and well-being of the brain and identified the four categories namely; excellent mental health, good mental health, poor mental health and mental disorder.
Focusing on mental disorder Dr Ryan emphasised its seriousness by sharing research statistics which revealed that only one third of the people in the UK enjoyed good mental health and 77 per cent of the working population in Canada suffer mental disorders. He addressed the issues of experimenting with drugs and the excessive use of drugs which lead to addiction; reiterating that addiction was a nightmare for the family. It is both frightening and terrifying and in some instances there is enabling.
Dr Ryan explained that the addict usually targets the female in the family who may believe that they are helping the addict when in fact they are enabling them in their addiction. He opined that there are serious consequences for the family of the addict and referenced instances of serious abuse. Addressing what can be done as family, worker, community Dr Ryan stressed “don’t panic” seek intervention via friends, relatives, your priest/pastor or other professionals. Remove persons who may be at risk from the troubled home. He lamented the lack of adequate resources to assist the family of the addict in Trinidad and Tobago suggesting that there was a role for the Church perhaps through the provision of temporary safe havens.
Dr Ryan’s presentation covered various aspects of mental disorder and described some of the signs that children may exhibit if they are on a path that lead to addiction including addiction to gambling or other games. He called for the early assessment of children beginning at the Early Childhood Centres to assess their mental predisposition.
In addressing the questions raised by participants Dr Ryan advanced that a systematic approach needs to be developed to facilitate the needs pertinent to mental disorder. He recognised the value of EAPs (Employee Assistance Programmes) in the work environment but believed they need to be expanded. In closing Dr Ryan’s advice to maintain good mental health included regular exercise, meditation, yoga, positive thinking and praying for sustenance and stability.
Barbara Wafe, MOC’s team leader urged participants to continue the conversation at their homes and organisations and appealed “Let’s get together and help each other”.
– Manuelita Gomez-Thomas, MOC member