Graduation of 23 Doctors and Nurses from several Region Four (Demerara/Mahaica) Hospitals and Health Centres

GEORGETOWN, MOPH – The social stain Guyanese mental health patients must endure are forcing most of them to stay away from treatment according Dr. Karen Boyle, Deputy Chief Medical Officer (DCMO) and Util Richmond-Thomas, Director, Mental Health Unit.

The two Public Health Ministry officials made the observation Monday at the graduation of 23 doctors and nurses from several Region Four (Demerara/Mahaica) hospitals and health centres who completed the mh GAP Intervention programme recently developed by the global World Health Organisation (WHO).

The ceremony was held in the National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS) Boardroom in the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) compound.

While Dr. Richmond-Thomas lauded the training as a “significant step for mental health in Guyana” to help reverse several of the ills hampering progress on the mental health front, for her part, Dr. Boyle is concerned about existing stain that stigma and discrimination have on patients which is forcing the majority to avoid showing up for treatment.

The social tarnishing of MH patients and their families is too heavy a burden for the 112,000 Guyanese mental health patients and the challenge the Public Health Ministry faces is further exacerbated by the shortage of trained personnel to treat them.

For every 100,000 Guyanese there are only 0.8 doctors, that is 6 psychiatrists to serve the 750,000 population scattered throughout the

Dr. Karen Boyle, Deputy Chief Medical Officer (DCMO)

216,000 square kilometers.

In high income countries 35 -50 per cent of people with serious mental disorders receive no treatment. In Europe, the gap is 45 per cent. In low and middle income countries such as Guyana, some 76 – 85 per cent patients with serious mental disorders receive no treatment.

Richmond-Thomas wants the huge gap between those who need MH treatment and those who actually access the facility to be closed swiftly hence the national training programmes targeting all 10 Administrative Regions.

The Public Health vision is to help de-mystify mental health diseases and change the public view of the patients as being ‘mad’.

According to Dr. Richmond-Thomas mental health issues must be seen as normal just as pregnancy, diabetes or hypertension are. People with mental health conditions must be able to “walk off the road and get treatment” the way patients with other ailments are doing, Richmond-Thomas said.

Dr. Util Richmond-Thomas, Director, Mental Health Unit

Under the current plan, the primary health care system will be strengthened to cater for immediate treatment of MH patients leaving the most complicated cases for specialists higher up the ladder in the public health care system.

In addition, Richmond-Thomas foresees “no more institutionalisation of MH patients” at facilities in new Amsterdam, Region Six (East Berbice/Corentyne) or other facilities nationwide. She said too that the current training programme will help ensure that patients will no longer be forced to leave their regions for specialised treatment in the capital city.

Guyana, like many other countries, has in the past been expending large sums on mental health institutionalised care, while the evidence shows that more than 70 percent of persons with mental health condition can be adequately treated in primary health care. Large numbers of persons attend primary health care with these disorders but for various reasons health workers fail to detect and adequately treat them.

“We all have to champion the causes of mental health patients” Dr. Richmond-Thomas told the batch of graduates from Beterverwagting, Supply, Victoria, Timehri, Diamond Diagnostic Centre, Lusignan, Mahaica and Plaisance Health Centres and representatives from the C.C, Nicholson Hospital and the Mental Health unit of the MOPH.

“The aim is also to detect them early, manage them correctly, and for help to be everywhere, most importantly in all health centres and all general hospitals,” according to Richmond-Thomas.

The 23 candidates were coursed on depression, psychosis, epilepsy, child and adolescent mental and behavioural disorders, dementia, disorders due to substance use, self-harm, suicide and other significant mental health complaints.

The first batch of trainees from Berbice graduated last week and another group is also slated to receive their certification on Thursday in Region Three (Essequibo Islands/West Demerara).

Guyana is among the first CARICOM state to implement the WHO-designed training strategy which is a “significant step for mental health in Guyana” Richmond –Thomas said explaining the rationale behind the training programme.

Deputy Regional Health Officer (DRHO) Dr. Patrick Lindo challenged the graduating team to utilise their freshly-gained insights to attend to their patients’ ‘whole person’ i.e. their biological, social and psychological needs.

“If we impact all three spheres we will get better results,” Dr. Lindo assured

He said the Region is “excited” by the participants’ new understanding of the world of mental health patients.

“You are our partners,” Dr. Boyle reminded them.