By Utamu Belle
With the stigma surrounding mental health in Guyana and the increased need for mental health services, three women are presently on a mission to make a difference.
They are the visionary minds behind the recently established Magnolia Counselling and Consultancy Services. The trio includes Trained Clinical Mental Health Counsellor, Latoya Italia Beckles who has an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counselling that allows her to practice as a psychologist; Felicia Saul is a Guidance Counsellor, trained in Educational Psychology with emphasis on School Counselling and an undergraduate degree in Psychology who currently practices as a Guidance Counsellor within the school setting as well as Counsellor and Therapist at Magnolia and Carlene Cush-Ouseley who has a Master’s Degree in Psychology.
The trio is currently providing services such as individual counselling, couples counselling, career counselling, group counselling, family counselling, consultancy, referral services and training to the general populace.
The Sunday Times Magazine recently sat down with Beckles and Saul who both attended the University of the Southern Caribbean in Trinidad. Upon completion, they both gained accreditation from Andrews University based in the United States some years ago.
According to the women, after receiving accreditation they were excited to practice in an effort to make a positive change in the Guyanese society.
“When we returned home, we were eager to practice and do some work with our Psychology degree at the time, because we recognised that not many persons in 2013 had the Psychology background and so we sat down and we penned out our business plan,” Beckles told this publication.
However, they realised that their dreams would not come without its fair share of challenges.
“We didn’t get to see that actualise…Felicia went back to Trinidad and I was completing studies again. So, she went back, she completed her Master’s programme and I went and completed mine,” Beckles said.
But as fate would have it, the enterprising young women did not lose hope and came together again to realise their dreams. This plan also did not work out at the time, until this year when they came together again and brought their colleague Cush-Ouseley, who is based in the United States, onboard.
“So, we decided, you know what, especially in light of the pandemic, persons are seeking out services for mental health. Because what the research is showing that as a result of the pandemic the whole issue of the COVID restrictions, persons are not able to physically interact with their loved ones and that kind of thing. We see a rise in depression, persons are now experiencing anxiety, and so we came together and we said this is something that is much needed, not just in Guyana but in our hometown Linden,” Beckles noted.
She said they went on to have the business registered and commenced providing services in both Linden and Georgetown.
The team of professional women are now operating in a virtual setting, in light of the pandemic. They are hoping to have a physical space to practice in the future, whereby clients who prefer in-person counselling can meet with them. They also provide the option whereby clients can request home visits for counselling.
Interested persons can call telephone number 592-678-0821 to schedule an appointment, with that first appointment being absolutely free.
Stigma and importance of mental health
In an effort to bring more awareness of the importance of mental health in the Guyanese society, Saul advised that it is something which should be taken as seriously as physical health.
“Health is Wealth – that’s a saying that we often hear. Health entails not just your physical health or your exterior, but it involves every aspect of you. As human beings we have different dimensions – emotional, physical, spiritual etc. So, just as you might get sick and feel pain and decide to go to a doctor, your mind is also part of you and it is also important to make sure that you take care of the mind,” she advised.
Saul also agreed that there is a stigma attached to mental health here in Guyana, something which Magnolia hopes to help change.
“One of the things that we need to be aware of is just as how any part of your body can become sick, your mind can also become sick. It doesn’t have to be something that you’re born with. Your mental health can deteriorate off of stress…poor nutrition…as a result of having an accident. At any point in time, any one of us, our mental health could deteriorate,” she stated.
She also noted that just as how it’s important to seek professional help for physical illness, seeking mental health guidance should also be prioritised.
“It’s definitely something that as a population we need to change our mindset around it, and that’s what we’re hoping to do through Magnolia…not only offering our services but we’re hoping that we would be able to educate the population so that there can be a shift in our overall thinking as it relates to mental health.”
Similar sentiments were also echoed by Beckles, who noted that it is okay for anyone to reach out and seek professional help. She further stressed that therapy allows you to address and unpack those burning issues which you might have.
Additionally, Beckles noted that it also helps us to deal with past issues in an effort to improve future behaviours.
Saul added that Magnolia provides an atmosphere which allows you to be comfortable and freely share whatever challenges you may be experiencing, as she noted that confidentiality is a very important aspect of the business.
Meanwhile, Beckles highlighted clients and employees sign on to a confidentiality agreement which may only be breached if someone plans to harm themselves or someone else and in cases of child abuse.
In looking at the situation here in Guyana, Saul said she has observed that for the most part the general population does not have healthy coping mechanisms or support systems.
Beckles also pointed out that in some cases of domestic violence, perpetrators who have a need for control lash out at their partners because they do not know how to properly deal with anger or other form of emotions.
Saul said in other cases these are people who may have been exposed to or experienced forms of violence themselves in their childhood.
“At Magnolia we are here to serve everyone. Whether you are from the LGBTQ community…Christian, no matter your race, creed, how you identify. We are here as service providers and we are able to meet you where you are…,” she said.