Today, I want to write about something that has been bothering me for a long time. Once in a while there will be a period of seemingly nonstop violence in St. Lucia, as I’m sure is the case in other Caribbean countries. For example, during last year’s Christmas season and early January, I could hear multiple gunshots from downtown Castries almost daily. Nearly every day in the news I read about some murder or group of murders that had occurred in the north of the island. Many of these murders happened disturbingly close to my home.
In the wake of such violence, it’s common for the ministers and other government officials to release statements calling for an end to violence. From as early as I can remember, I recall hearing minister, teachers, and other officials calling for violence to come to an end. However, violence still continues today in St. Lucia. All of these calls for prayers and short-term solutions failed to stop the gun and gang violence in St. Lucia.
West Indians seem to think that binge drinking and massive amounts of alcohol consumption are a hilarious joke and signify the “free spirited” nature of the region. Just look at songs like Kabawé by DYP or Rum & Redbull by Beenie Man. Although both songs are good songs, they do glorify a culture of irresponsible behavior with one of the most dangerous drugs anyone with a twenty dollar bill can buy over the counter with absolutely no interference. Today, I’m not going to go into the root causes of alcohol addiction, but hopefully I will highlight why this public health emergency presents a far graver danger than marijuana, our governments’ current scapegoat for every social ill under the sun.
I’ve written briefly about alcohol before, comparing it to marijuana but today I’m mostly going to shy away from comparisons and delve into the social/physical implications of alcohol addiction. I say that alcohol addiction presents a far more serious problem for a couple primary reasons:
Alcohol is ridiculously easy to buy in the Caribbean. At least in Saint Lucia, you can’t drive 100 ft without passing a bar. You can buy alcohol in the grocery stores and there is no enforced drinking age. (You can act like a drinking age is enforced but I have hard evidence that suggests otherwise…)
Alcohol is linked to social issues that disproportionately impact women such as intimate partner violence and sexual assault. (To any cretins reading… No, I don’t mean women’s alcohol consumption causes sexual assault. Rather, men seem to commit sexual assault when binge drinking.)
But what impact does alcohol have? Why can’t it just be fun and games?
Here is how easy it is to get hooked on alcohol according to two different scales averaged together:
On this chart, you can see that some aspects of alcohol addiction are more potent than nicotine and cocaine. Alcohol is certainly more addictive than caffeine or marijuana. Additionally, the biggest “advantage” alcohol has over all these drugs is that it’s incredibly easy for anyone to purchase at any time, for any reason, in any quantity. Addictions are most easily formed in younger people, so this accessibility of alcohol means the public health burden of alcohol will certainly be greater as more people are permitted (and encouraged through media/family influence) to start drinking early.
Drinking too much over time (whether you can be diagnosed with alcoholism or not) has negative impacts on many parts of your body for example:
Pregnant women who drink are at risk of having their children develop fetal alcohol syndrome
Drinking impairs anyone’s ability to contribute to the household function (this may include earning capacity, or capacity to engage in general maintenance of the household)
If one party spends a lot of money to feed their addiction, this can negatively impact a poor family, draining them of most of their resources. Taking these resources away can lead to poor health outcomes for everyone, not just the alcoholic as money is diverted from other health care or child care needs
Drinking can lead to home accidents and domestic violence
Alcoholism can lead to loss of family income due to inability to work OR due to premature death of a provider
There are substantial mental health problems that accompany alcoholism (some examples include depression & anxiety)
The effects of mens’ heavy drinking in the household have strong negative impacts on the women in the household in these regards:
Increased instances of domestic violence
Increased risk of HIV infection
increased economic burden on their partners
This is just examining the social effects of alcohol in one specific lens. Of course, there are other aspects of social functioning to consider like the ability to function in the workplace. If these social problems don’t resonate with you, visit this reddit thread of “adult children” of alcoholics filled with heart wrenching personal stories that just begin to highlight the negative impact alcoholism has on families.
Overall, this isn’t to shame alcoholics or to suggest that there is something inherently wrong with them. In this culture, getting caught in a dangerous cycle is beyond easy. Breaking a habit of heavy drinking and/or alcoholism however is — in contrast — far more difficult. Here, we don’t have Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon. We don’t have the facilities for medical detoxification when necessary. Our society encourages one thing, but when it gets out of hand, drinkers are blamed and vilified rather than helped to heal. And of course, this post will never be able to cure someone’s alcoholism or heavy drinking. Education and knowing the facts isn’t enough to stop addiction; this is a moralistic (and incorrect) myth about addiction that leads to placing the blame on addicts. We need a public health intervention that includes education but doesn’t stop there.
And no matter what needs to be done on an institutional level, we also need to change our culture surrounding alcohol. Binge drinking isn’t fun or funny. Our “carefree” culture isn’t actually carefree at all. It’s flat out irresponsible and dangerous. Alcoholism and calling rum “therapy” isn’t a joke. When you take alcoholism lightly, you diminish one of the most serious health issues our nations face.
This is a serious public health issue that has damaged our countries and will continue to damage them until something changes.
If you suspect that you or someone close to you may be heading down a dangerous path with alcohol, please view some of these resources linked here:
Intersectional feminism in the Caribbean means ending the stigma against mental health and actually addressing the mental health crisis as well as our culture’s ableism at large. I’ve tried to write a post about mental health and the Caribbean for months, continuing to draw blanks when I try to put a definition on our perceptions and attitudes towards mental health as a region. I struggle to portray the relationship succinctly in a way that would have the possibility to change the minds of those who believe that mental health is a struggle for the white, wealthy American.
West Indians who understand the problems we have with acknowledging mental health (much less treating mental health problems) doesn’t need to be told anything more. So, I figured that I would address the non believers in this post, in some desperate hope of breaking through.
Mental health is defined simply by a lazy author’s first hit on a google search as being “a person’s condition with regards to their psychological and emotional well being”. In general, I believe St. Lucians have pretty good mental health from all outward appearances (which may themselves be deceiving). As a whole the nation tends to be very relaxed, and possibly dangerously blasé about most issues. We maintain this lackadaisical cool towards near everything, letting neither poverty nor anything else bring us down.
However, these generalities exclude particular realities about our society that reflect a negative aspect of mental health, and that reflect a society with some fairly troubling undercurrents regarding emotional and psychological well being. There’s the common trope of the older West Indian man who spends all weekend nights drinking (and sometimes weekday evenings) only to come home piss drunk and beat his wife who has spent all day working alone to keep house and child. There’s the consistent presence of “crazy” people roaming downtown Castries as they move between the psychiatric hospital and the streets.
There is a lot going on at home and in the Caribbean diaspora that indicates poor mental health. We also know that poverty and the high stress of poverty are associated with conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Not so much for the rich and wealthy. Of course conversations surrounding mental health are cloaked in vague language at best and at worst flat out denial that these problems persist despite the fact that they are quite common. We silence conversations on mental health and choose not to believe that they could possibly affect us.
Perhaps we believe that black suffering is normal. After all, our nations were born out of blood and trauma. What else do we know? Impoverished mental health feels so familiar, that we don’t realize that we don’t have to suffer. There are names for our “eccentricities”. There are treatments and therapeutic techniques that mean no one should have to endure suffering, sometimes to the point of suicide.
Mental health is connected to physical health, whether or not we accept it. Taking care of our minds is not a white/American luxury; it’s a necessity. While understanding mental health through a spiritual framework may be culturally relevant, we also need to understand that making use of advanced scientific understanding of mental health is even more important to ensuring our nation’s health overall.
I find it troubling that we have so many people, often times young, able-bodied men, committing suicide in our country [x][x][x]. Other people seem to find it troubling as well and fall back on a spiritual understanding of this problem. While there’s nothing wrong with understanding various issues through spirituality, there is a problem when we ignore factual information about mental health to justify our preconceived ideas.
We need to learn about and destigmatize mental health issues. This needs to happen immediately so that we can stop losing our citizens to treatable problems. Mental illness is not a weakness that people can just “get over”. Mental illness is not just similar to physical illness. It is a physical illness. Would you tell someone to get over a broken leg? If not, you should never tell someone to “get over” a serious mental health problem.
There are resources available at the end of this post to help you understand common mental health issues better.