We all want to live a long life in which we are able to be healthy and productive. We also want to live as independently as possible and not become a burden on our loved ones, or the state.
The challenge confronting many people in Barbados and the region is that life has changed dramatically. The common mores that helped to guide our daily interactions and lifestyles have been whittled away due to the increasing foreign influences on our culture.
Traditions of large extended families residing under the same roof and learning to coexist, and to share what they have are diminishing. That communal existence allowed us to portion household expenses, assist with childcare, and other responsibilities.
Most importantly, we learned to appreciate and respect the elders in the household; we watched them grow old, listen to their stories of yesteryear, and acknowledged the contribution and sacrifices they made.
This is important and provides context for many of the developments occurring in our society and points to how they all intersect.
On Tuesday, the island began hosting an important meeting at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre that brought together Caribbean and other small island representatives for a Ministerial Conference on Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health.
The confab provided another opportunity for Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Dr Tedros Ghebreysus, who has been an important ally for the government of Barbados, to visit the country.
The global leader also brought along director of the Pan American Health Organisation, Dr Jarbas Barbosa da Silva, who with regional Health Ministers are interrogating the exploding non-communicable disease (NCD) crisis in the Caribbean and the mental health issues.
Before Prime Minister Mia Mottley headed out of the country to speak at a number of high-level meetings, she addressed the health conference.
“We have literally to change consciously the things that we do if we are going to begin to fight the battles that we know we have to fight,” she contended.
Furthermore, she made the argument that it was necessary for populations across the Caribbean to be encouraged to change lifestyles.
“The success with NCDs is not just in the hands of the people in this room. The success [with] NCDs is in the transformation of behaviour of each and every one of our citizens. The bottom line is that we need to speak a different language in order to be able to be successful,” she insisted.
We completely agree with the assertions of the Prime Minister. The challenge for many households, however, is that the pressures of daily living are piling up and they are also impacting our mental health status.
Heads of households are challenged to make decisions about whether to pay the electricity bill or the water bill; whether they should buy a whole chicken for $25 or purchase two tins of corned beef, two packs of macaroni and three pounds of potatoes with that same money.
When many bellies are to be filled, a mother who works at the gas station and has to catch a bus to get to work at $3.50 a ride, is watching every dollar.
She is unlikely to buy six oranges at $2 each (this despite the reduction in taxes on citrus produce in the last Budget presentation), when she can buy several packs of MSG and salt-laced Ramen noodles with the artificial flavour of chicken or beef.
As unhealthy as the choices being made by many people, they represent the real life circumstances of households in Barbados and across the region.
The situation was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and war between Russia and Ukraine. What has also contributed to the health crisis is the changing family structure.
As we noted earlier, the shift away from the extended family unit has resulted in people struggling on their own, rather than sharing their burdens.
Frankly, many of the decisions people are making regarding their socio-economic circumstances are impacting their physical and mental health and burdening the country as a whole.