It is indeed a great honour and privilege for me to be part of this auspicious event being held as part of the extended week of activities to commemorate the 3rd Anniversary of our government of National Unity. The solemn oath that I took on February 18th, 2015 has been my guide as I lead and serve all of the people of my beloved St. Kitts and Nevis. I do so with the advice, confidence and support of my Cabinet colleagues. Together as a team we have been opening doors and creating opportunities through service, as well as through the empowerment of all of our citizens and residents.
On December 5th, 2016, we had the soft opening of this newly constructed $1.3 million-dollar mental health day treatment centre.
Today’s renaming of our Mental Health Day Treatment Centre allows us to focus on the critical sub themes around the commemoration of our 3rd Anniversary in office. I refer to 2 sub themes:
1. Opening doors – in this regard we are working to ensure that our health sector is responsive to the needs of all our citizens and residents. It is an inclusive public sector health response which we are providing. Today we focus on families who are pressured, stressed and traumatized by the challenges of mental health. They can now have the comfort of a facility that provides better care to their loved ones. Their loved ones too are no longer locked out of the system but are welcome here.
2. Creating opportunities for service requires us to be able to appreciate, recognize, incentivize and honour especially long and meritorious service. Today we honour the long, meritorious service of a pioneer in mental health care as well as how his efforts helped and stabilized many families and further empowered many of our citizens and residents.
This mental health day treatment centre is an example of that theme at work. It’s now up to all of us to do a better job of recognizing when we – or people we know – need a little emotional help and counseling, so that they or we can seek the requisite assistance and treatment quickly and in a manner that will ensure efficacy and success.
To this end, we will work to ensure that our universal health insurance plan considers our mentally ill by forbidding the exclusion of people with pre-existing illness from gaining medical coverage.
Who Is The Man We Honour?
Who is this gentleman we are honouring today by renaming this very important mental health facility?
As my Cabinet deliberated on the matter of renaming the Centre, I was fascinated by the significant contribution that Dr Lake would have made in the development of mental health and wellness programmes in the Federation – at a time when mental illness was very much frowned upon and psychiatric patients were treated as outcasts or hidden away from society. Today, the ever-expanding body of global research on mental health and wellness has confirmed that a simple bout of depression is considered mental illness. What this means is that mental illness is no respecter of persons – it can happen to anyone, at any time.
Our records indicate that Arthur Wilfred Lawson Lake was born on July 2, 1908 in St. John’s, Antigua to Arthur Benjamin Lake and Catherine Frances Lake who were also Antiguan. He graduated with a medical degree from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He was prepared well for his medical career prior to university via his training and certification in Antigua as a druggist and dispenser. By the time he graduated medical school in Canada, Dr Lake had met and married Marion Mackinnon of Scotland. That marriage produced one child, Catherine, in 1938. Catherine is here with us this morning, together with her husband Dr Desmond Fosbery. Dr Lake’s first post graduate assignment was that of acting Medical Officer in Antigua. He was later posted to the Federation – in Nevis – as a Medical Officer, for a number of years before moving to St. Kitts to take up employment at Cunningham Hospital.
In addition to his medical and surgical duties, Dr Lake was also well-known for having a keen interest in obstetrics. This became quite evident when, during the 1940s, he bought the old Anglican rectory property named “Greenlands” and converted it into a small, fully-staffed maternity centre. Over the years he would have also served as Chief Medical Officer and Registrar, as well as a Medical Officer to the St. Kitts Sugar Factory.
History would record that Dr Lake’s growing interest in psychiatric medicine led him to establish the St. Kitts Mental Health Association. He was also the first in the Federation to set up Mental Health Clinics in the Country. Some of his contemporaries remember vividly his regular Mental Health Clinics held at the Basseterre Health Centre on Connell Street, where he was ably assisted by District Nurse Carmen Allen, wife of the former Deputy Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) Mr Errol Allen. In those days, psychiatric patients were confined to The Cardin Home, with those requiring critical care being transferred to Antigua for further treatment. Besides his regular Mental Health Clinics, Dr Lake was also well known for seeing mentally ill patients at his office on Fort Street, Basseterre. This office was located atop The City Drug Store which was founded in 1949 by him and his business partner, Mr David Ferguson.
I am advised that Dr Lake’s passions went beyond the boundaries of medicine. He was also well known for racing and breeding horses, so much so that his horses would have been “on show” during Royal Visits to St. Kitts. During those visits he would have also spent considerable time discussing equestrian pedigree with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In 1961, one of his horses, Decorum, became the first West Indian Thoroughbred to win the Trinidad Derby.
For his yeoman service to the fields of medicine, obstetrics, surgery and psychiatry the late Dr Arthur Lake received two significant awards, namely Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1960 and Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1967. Today’s further recognition of his achievements, and his investment of time, talent and treasure in the people of this Federation are testimony to the deep gratitude of our Government, and special interest stakeholders, for Dr Lake’s major contribution to national development. As of today, the edifice of this first national mental health day treatment facility will proudly bear his name as the Dr Arthur Wilfred Lawson Lake Mental Health Day Treatment Centre – a signal honour that is well deserved and would live on in perpetuity as a living legacy.
We hope today by saluting his legendary and pioneering work we can encourage a more sympathetic and caring response from our society to persons with mental health challenge.
My Government also recognizes that people find themselves in need of mental help not only because of drug use, but also because of stressors such as major life changes and traumatic events. High levels of stress or emotional life events can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, schizophrenic episodes and even depression. Consider this startling fact: the World Health Organization (WHO) ranks major depression as the world’s leading cause of disability.
All of us know people with varying degrees of mental illness. I hear the stories all the time – and I’m sure that you do, too. One lady told me that her godmother now walks the streets after growing up in a well-to-do home, having pretty clothes, a top-shelf education and conversation skills. Then you hear the stories of the academic superstar who had his pick of scholarships, but seemingly flamed out after getting caught in the grip of mental illness. The stories are the same over every generation.
It’s as though a switch was flipped, and that person – your friend, your loved one, your son, daughter, niece, nephew, teacher, cousin, or your next-door neighbour – seemed to change their personality, their behaviour, their attitude, their view on life and even their view of you and everyone who loves them.
As a caring Government, my Team Unity administration – with the renaming of this centre in honour of a man who contributed greatly to increasing local awareness about mental illness – has come here today to flip our own switch, signaling that we are here and that you are not alone.
We are here to help to carry the load and assure you that mental illness is not your fault. We are removing the stigma here and now. It is what Dr. Arthur Lake would have wanted us to do. This is what Team Unity would like, an end to discrimination against people who are ill and need our support.
My Government is committed to organizing – with the help of partner organizations – a National Conference on Mental Health, bringing healthcare experts, faith leaders, advocates for the mentally ill, and other stakeholders together to have a national conversation about mental health in St. Kitts and Nevis.
We hear the conversations about mental health that are going on right now in the United States, for example. In the wake of increasing amounts of horrific mass shootings, including the most recent one in Parkland, Florida, where 17 children met an untimely, tragic end, we hear the back and forth – and some would say we hear scapegoating – targeted at the mentally ill. We want to encourage a national conversation aimed at embracing our mentally ill and ending the stigma of mental illness.
In closing, I reiterate that my Team Unity Government is committed to leading through service, while fostering a sense of unity and solidarity among ALL of the people – no matter who they are or what illness they have. Sickness does not discriminate but people do.
My Government is therefore committed to stamping out discrimination. We are confident that God, in His divine providence, will continue to do great things through our Government, for the good of our Country. May God bless our beautiful Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.