…in wake of Bartica/Lusignan massacres
Local social workers from a number of sectors are being trained to effectively cater to children’s mental health, specifically in the area of trauma and stress at a Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma and stress (CBITS) workshop launched yesterday.
According to the facilitators, the workshop was initiated as a result of the ill preparedness of social workers to respond to the countrywide trauma after the Bartica and Lusignan massacres earlier this year.
Some thirty-five social workers selected from the Ministries of Health, Education, Social Services, Amerindian Affairs, Life Line Services, Mercy Wings Vocational Centre, and Every Child Guyana are participating in the workshop which ends next Tuesday.
Some of the critical areas that will be discussed over the next few days include Early Childhood Development, Cognitive Behavioral Approaches to Managing Post Traumatic Stress, Anxiety, Depression in Children and Adolescents, and Linking children with Mental Health Care.
The key objectives of the workshop, according to Dr. Douglas Walker, Director-Clinical psychologist, Mercy Family Centre New Orleans USA and one of the two facilitators, are to give an overview of mental health in children, to discuss children’s reaction to trauma and stress, and how to help them recover from violence, disasters, assault.
The seminar will also focus on examining ways in which social workers/caregivers can take care of themselves.
Giving the feature address, Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy highlighted the relevance of mental health care to developing countries like Guyana.
To this end, he said over the past few years funds to support mental health programs in Guyana have increased by several hundred percent.
“As we stand right now, more than $250M will be invested in recurrent expenses in 2008 in mental health programs. In 1992, this investment stood as less than $10M. Capital investment in 2008 would exceed $60M.”
He added that mental health influences how people think and feel about themselves and others and how they interpret events.
“It affects our capacity to learn, to communicate and to form and sustain relationships. It also influences our ability to cope with change, transition and life events – having a baby, losing someone because of intentional or unintentional violence, storms, etc.”
“Mental health has a central role to all health and well-being agenda. How we feel and think are strong imperatives for physical health. This lesson keeps escaping us.”
Acknowledging that taking care of people’s mental health needs is a multi-sector and multi-stakeholder responsibility and a task too large for the Ministry of Health, Ramsammy said the Ministries of Education, Human Services and Culture, Youth and Sport have joined the initiative.
He underscored the importance of addressing the mental health needs of children, even in the classroom. “It is inadequate and unacceptable for us to think that teaching our children to pass exams is enough. Indeed, our success in teaching children to pass exams would have a quantum leap if we address the mental health needs of our children.
Teaching our children and empowering them to cope with various conditions and to cope with their environment is an imperative we have for far too long neglected.”
He added that the Ministry of Education is now sponsoring the third in a series of workshops to change this reality and to be faithful to the imperative.
“Just putting the issue into perspective allows you to see the significance for the child. There is certainly a genetic component that determines how well we can cope. Childhood experiences, life events, levels of social support as well as other factors such as housing and violence in our homes and communities are important determining factors.”
He pointed out that gender discrimination, unfortunately, still looms as a significant barrier for development, of mental health, there is a serious deficit on global health and development leadership and agenda.
A Global Fund for mental health is a prerequisite for development and the sooner the world confesses to this, the better our chance of eliminating poverty and improving health for all, the goals of Alma Ata, more than 30 years ago, and the goals of the MDGs which stare at us as 2015 approaches.”
He pointed out that depression alone accounts for almost 4% of the global disease burden.
“Waiting for the future to address these issues is not an option. Waiting for the future to address the mental health conundrum is a mistake of colossal proportions and is a good example of bad governance, a critical component of health for all.”
Against this backdrop, he said, the Health Ministry has developed a strategy to integrate mental health programs within the primary health care system. The rolling out of the depression and anxiety guidelines for use by primary health care providers has already begun, he said.
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