Reconciling a Broken Heritage: Developing Mental Health Social Work in Guyana

Halley, Coya and Cowden, Stephen ORCID: 0000-0002-2549-8760 (2023) Reconciling a Broken Heritage: Developing Mental Health Social Work in Guyana. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 20 (20). Art 6931. doi:10.3390/ijerph20206931

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Guyana’s colonial past has left a trail of economic instability, racial polarization, and physical and mental trauma. Despite the progress made since Guyana’s independence in 1966, the remnants of this colonial past continue to shape present-day Guyana. As a result, violence and trauma continue to impact the mental health of the population. This is manifest in endemic problems of domestic violence and racialized social divisions which have created the conditions for rates of suicide which are amongst the highest in the world. The formal mental health provision which exists in Guyana is based primarily on an individualized and largely biomedical model of care. Despite valuable attempts to develop this provision, the difficulty of physically accessing this for some people and the stigma which surround this means that the capacity of this system to address the serious problems which exist is limited. It is also the case that in times of emotional and psychic distress, and in the context of Guyana being a very religious country, many people turn to traditional supernatural healers and remedies for support. In this paper, we discuss what is known as “Obeah”, noting that while this is widely practiced, it remains something of a taboo subject in Guyana. We consider the reasons why these practices and beliefs continue to be influential. However, what neither these biomedical or supernatural perceptions of mental health are able to address is the sociogenic nature of Guyana’s mental health issues, which we argue emerges out of the historic trauma of Guyana’s experience of colonialism and the violence which it engendered. We argue that profound forms of mental distress which exist in Guyana call for an integrative and holistic practice model that contextualizes these problems through a sociogenic lens. Social workers, working collaboratively with other health-related professions, can occupy a critical role in integrating these different conceptions through developing a rights-based model of mental health where the causes of mental ill-health are understood as socially determined.

Item Type: Article
Article Type: Article
Additional Information: This article belongs to the Special Issue Second Edition of International Perspectives on Mental Health Social Work
Uncontrolled Keywords: Guyana; Mental health; Social work; Colonialism; Trauma
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology. > HV40-69 Social Work
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Health and Social Care
Research Priority Areas: Society and Learning
Depositing User: Anne Pengelly
Date Deposited: 27 Oct 2023 09:36
Last Modified: 09 Nov 2023 09:15

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