Nicole G. Cowie & the Bipolar Disorder
My name is Nicole G. Cowie. I have been a mental health/disability activist for the past two years. I am also a person that has been living with bipolar disorder for over fifteen years. I began having depressive symptoms at around the age of 18 which comprised of sleeping a lot, not eating, feeling numb inside, not being able to enjoy life, thoughts of guilt, sadness and even suicide; then I would just one day wake up and be fine. This cycle of depression and then being fine continued until the age of 21 when I began to exhibit manic symptoms… spending money wildly, being irritable and poor judgement. I ran away from home and eventually ended up in St. Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital for three months. I finally left the hospital with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and my life in shambles. I had no job and a lot of my friends abandoned me except for two special ones. My parents were basically the people who stuck by me. I was also stigmatized within my community. At that point, I made the decision that the only way to go from rock bottom was up.
I started my journey by going to YTEPP and then from there to OJT and to the University of the West Indies, St Augustine. UWI was a major turning point for me. When I did a course called Disability Studies, I found out that I was a person with a disability. I won the prize for best overall performance in the course and from there, I also copped the Government Scholarship for Persons with Disabilities. I graduated in 2013 with BSc Sociology with a minor in Social Policy. My activism also began there as I volunteered during my undergad years, at what is now known as the StudentLife Development Department, to work with fellow students with disabilities like myself. I still do work with them.
My activism in my undergrad years has now blossomed into full -time activism which consists of public speaking, peer counselling, academic research and policy advocacy – all in the areas of disability and mental health. I also do online activism thrugh my Facebook Page and blog Activist Chronicles which encapsulates what my activism is about “Life. Activism. Disability. Mental Health.” One of my key messages is that having a mental illness is not a death sentence and you can live a good life with a mental illness provided you work at maintaining your mental health.
Part of maintaining your health is accessing mental health services, be it psychologist, psychiatrists, therapists and also being compliant with your medication. Trinidad and Tobago has a two-tiered system of mental health services – private and public. The private services are quite expensive but the quality is good. In the public health system, the quality of services varies and you may not always get the medication you need. Both public and private mental health care systems have long wait times. There is also a serious deficit in rehabilitation counselling once someone comes out of psychiatric hosptialization.
My hope for mental health care in Trinidad and Tobago is first, a revamped Mental Health Act in accordance with the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to provide a framework for improved mental health service delivery. Secondly, a mental health delivery system that consults at every level the end-users, persons with mental illness, in designing policy and services for us. Thirdly, better and more widespread services – with information about these services being readily available and widely disseminated.
United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #3 focuses on Good Health and Wellbeing for all. Target 3.4 aims to 'reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being', by 2030. Often untreated and undiagnosed in the Caribbean, mental health issues challenge our people everyday.
To learn more about mental health, click here.
To learn about Mental Health Services in Trinidad and Tobago click here.