NASSAU, Bahamas — Collaboration between members of the clergy and mental health professionals in The Bahamas is an “important step” towards addressing the mental health needs of Bahamians, Minister of Health, Dr. the Hon. Hubert Minnis said Wednesday.


Addressing a Psychiatric Symposium for Clergy hosted by officials of the Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre,, the Ministry of Health and the Public Hospitals Authority, Dr. Minnis said such collaboration becomes even more necessary with a review of statistics that show that 40 percent of persons experiencing mental health illness first contact their clergy.


“In times of crises, people turn to their religious leaders for guidance, support and help,” Dr. Minnis said. “It is duly noted that initially, religious leaders are often the only persons that individuals needing assistance feel comfortable enough with to share their problems and concerns.


“Recognizing this fact, and particularly as it relates to mental illness, it is imperative that our religious leaders are well acquainted with those vital aspects of mental illness for which people need additional medical help to recover so that their suffering can be addressed and dealt with appropriately,” Dr. Minnis added.


Dr. Minnis told religious leaders that their input will “greatly assist” mental health professionals in combating mental illness in The Bahamas, and will also assist in combating the stigma attached with mental illness – a stigma he said is “still very prevalent and which has prevented persons from accessing the mental health assistance they need to recover from their illness.”


Dr. Minnis said the collaboration between the Church and the mental health profession can also serve as a proactive measure to combat some of the “fall-out” from the current economic downturn that is impacting The Bahamas and indeed, the world.


“Today we are experiencing a serious financial problem not only here in The Bahamas, but throughout the rest of the world, and many individuals will be experiencing mental illness and particularly pressure,” Dr. Minnis said.


“The possibility exists that we can see an increase in suicidal rates and you must be able to – as you guide your flock – detect illnesses and/or depression, by recognizing mood changes in the individuals whom you know very well,” Dr. Minnis added.


The one-day workshop focused on a number of areas including tips for the Clergy on recognizing and dealing with mental illness, recognizing and addressing the early warning signs of mental illness, tips for communicating with mentally ill persons and when to refer.


The religious leaders were also provided with a blueprint for developing the necessary programmes to assist church members who may be recovering from mental illness.






Minister of Health, Dr. the Hon. Hubert Minnis addresses religious leaders during a one-day Psychiatric Symposium for Clergy held Wednesday, February 25, 2009. (BIS Photo/Patrick Hanna)