Deliberate efforts are ongoing by the Ministry of Health in conjunction with its partners
to tackle the challenges associated with Mental Health. This tactic is one that is certainly not unique to Guyana as mental health challenges, which can be wide-ranging, are evident in countries across the globe.
An individual’s mental health is regarded as their psychological and emotional well-being. Moreover, mental health illness translates to conditions that affect behaviour, mood and thinking. These include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictions.
And addressing these conditions has not been a simple task. However, the Ministry of Health is currently preparing to craft a new Mental Health Strategic Plan, even as it seeks to keenly collaborate with technical partners the likes of the Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) and a wide cross-section of stakeholders.
Moreover, a consultation to further solicit the input of various stakeholders was on Wednesday convened at the Ocean View International Hotel, Liliendaal, Greater Georgetown,. The event was spearheaded by the Ministry of Health and PAHO/WHO.
It was at this forum that Dr. Jorge Rodriguez-Sanchez, in alluding specifically to the Mental Health situation in Latin America and the Caribbean, disclosed that the burden of mental health can be enormous. The Unit Chief for Mental Health and Substance Use attached to PAHO/WHO was at the time making a presentation on the Global Mental Health Plan 2013-2020.
In his deliberations Dr. Rodriguez-Sanchez disclosed that 65.5 per cent of the countries in the Region have a national mental health plan and 74 per cent of these were either approved or revised in 2005 or later.
He went on to note too, that while 56.3 per cent of the countries under scrutiny have in place legislation on mental health, in many cases, these laws are incomplete and do not meet international standards. This is compounded by the fact, he outlined, that psychoactive drugs are not within the reach of the population, a state of affairs that is added to the fact that some countries have major limitations in their information systems regarding mental health information gathering.
In fact Dr. Rodriguez-Sanchez opined that in this part of the world the Primary Health Care teams are oftentimes not prepared to handle mental health problems even as he highlighted that mental health services for children and adolescent are very limited.
In underscoring too that there are few actions in place to promote and prevent mental health, the Specialist spoke of research in this regard being poor or non-existent, even as he pointed out that some countries are also faced with a situation where mental health protection of the vulnerable populations is not a clear priority.
But the local health sector is determined to reverse such trends.
Moreover, Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Shamdeo Persaud, speaking on behalf of the Health Ministry, noted that yesterday’s forum was both important and timely. He disclosed that while the Ministry had introduced a Mental Health Strategic Plan in 2005, it was not until around 2008 that it was implemented.
“During that time we were just coming out from a severe disaster…the floods of 2005 and lots of the issues that emerged in addition to the health issues, centred on people’s capacity to cope,” recalled Dr. Persaud.
Even then, he noted that there was significant input from PAHO and some other supporting agencies to provide some level of support for persons.
“It opened the eyes of many of us who were not mainstream mental health practitioners as to the complexities with which mental health issues present,” said Dr. Persaud who went on to note that the last strategy was one that identified some issues. Among them was the main challenge of stigma and discrimination, which, according to Dr. Persaud, is likely to remain one of the key areas of concern in Guyana that must be addressed.
As such he shared his conviction that “as we are in the process of planning…it is always good to look back at what you did and how ambitious we were, and why we probably did not achieve all that we had planned to do at that time.”
He spoke of the need for ensuring that the society is one that respects all and does not discriminate in any form, be it gender, beliefs, religion, and certainly not on the basis of health issues.
“We are still trying to overcome some of those challenges,” said Dr. Persaud as he emphasised that dealing with mental health is no less challenging. “I think that the interface between the mental health itself and disorders still seems to be something that we need to look at.”
“In everyone’s minds, including some of our health professionals, you have a mental health issue if you have a psychiatric condition; in that way it sort of precludes the adequate intervention, sometimes in conditions that are not normally referred to as psychiatric, and as such those are precursors for many of the things like suicide, some of the violence we see in our society and some of the other acute mental health illness manifestations,” said Dr. Persaud as he noted that the linkage to substance abuse cannot be downplayed as well.
The Strategic Plan in the making is one that is expected to guide the delivery of mental health services over the course 2015-2020. Once in place, the plan will be synced with the Health Ministry’s overall Strategic Plan – Health Vision 2020, according to PAHO Resident Representative, Dr. William Adu-Krow.
Like Dr. Persaud, the PAHO Resident Representative spoke of the need to closely examine the previous plan in order to determine which areas “we need to include in the new one if they are not already.”
Aside from issues of stigma and discrimination, suicide and substance abuse, Dr. Adu-Krow also spoke of the need for issues such as depression and anxiety, alcohol, tobacco, among others that should be included in the Strategic Plan.
“It is my hope that during today and the days after the consultation work will still continue,” he intimated.
In delivering an overview of the consultation, Chief Psychiatrist and Mental Health Focal Point within the Ministry of Health, Dr. Bhiro Harry, amplified the importance of consulting with stakeholders. “If we had a perfect document then we would not have required you to be here to work with us today.” He further emphasised that “the intention is to make our document perfect.”
Among those in attendance Wednesday were several Regional Health Officers; Chief Executive Officer of the Berbice Regional Health Authority, Dr. Vishwa Mahadeo, and veteran psychiatrist, Dr. Frank Beckles.
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