Starting in 1838, the British brought Indian laborers under indentured servitude to the Caribbean (then falsely known as the West Indies). Laborers settled in countries such as Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Suriname. Since then, descendants of these laborers migrated again to the United States as part of the Caribbean diaspora. Large communities of West Indian Americans can be found in New York, Florida, Texas, and Minnesota.
Mental health considerations for West Indian Americans can be viewed in the lens of transgenerational trauma (or intergenerational trauma): traumas experienced by one generation ultimately affected generations thereafter. In addition to the repeated trauma associated with leaving one’s country to start a new life in another, several other major issues such as the high prevalence of suicide and alcoholism exist.
Based on a report from the World Health Organization, “Guyana is the country with the highest estimated suicide rate for 2012 globally, and Suriname has the sixth-highest.” Crisis reporters spoke with those affected by suicide and illuminate key factors for the high rates of suicide in Guyana: “poverty, pervasive stigma about mental illness, access to lethal chemicals, alcohol misuse, interpersonal violence, family dysfunction and insufficient mental health resources.”
First-generation West Indian Americans are raised with a unique intersectionality between two cultures. For the West Indian side, the pervasive effects of migration, poverty, interpersonal violence, suicide, and alcoholism typically get swept under the rug due to cultural stigma. Yet for the American side, there is access to quality mental health resources and increasingly normalized mental health issues.
Growing up, I experienced many cultural norms such as dismissing a male figure who was likely suffering from depression as “lazy” or calling severe alcoholism “normal.” But now, I can view these norms for the mental health concerns that were hiding and unnamed.
If you or a loved one are concerned about suicide, there are resources:
Call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255 (24/7)
Text the Crisis Text Line at 741741 Visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/ (24/7) Visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
World Health Organization. (2014, October 3). First WHO report on suicide prevention. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/suicide-prevention-report/en/.
Rawlins, W. C., & Bishop, M. (2018, June 29). Trying To Stop Suicide: Guyana Aims To Bring Down Its High Rate. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/06/29/622615518/trying-to-stop-suicide-guyana-aims-to-bring-down-its-high-rate