Measures being put in place to tackle mental health among youth

Minister Anthony

With the world quickly zeroing in on the importance of mental health following the advent of COVID-19, the government is rolling out a series of short and long-term plans to address mental health across the country.

Aside from the recent passage of the Suicide Prevention Bill, which was a monumental milestone for mental health in Guyana, the Health Ministry recently hosted a well-being conference targeting mental health.

Minister of Health, Dr Frank Anthony

The conference saw experts from across the world weighing in and offering solutions to tackle concerns about mental health locally, regionally and internationally.

However, most recent government interventions to tackle the serious issue are directed towards youth.

These include the introduction of Child Psychiatry Clinics, a classroom for children diagnosed with autism and autism spectrum disorders, and in-school mental health programmes.

Health Minister, Dr Frank Anthony, told the Department of Public Information (DPI) that the child psychiatry clinics were previously conducted at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), but have now grown to span several regions.

He said that the clinics aim at making mental health services more accessible to all age groups in every region of Guyana.

“We have now extended those clinics…so it is now offered at least once a month in different regions. So right now, we are in Regions Three, Four, Five and Six, and the intention is to expand it to other regions as well. So that’s one way of offering and expanding access to some of these services,” he explained.

Noting that the classroom for children with neurological development disorders would be expanded at the Ptolemy Reid Rehabilitation Centre, he said that the move is anticipated to bring welcomed relief to the parents of children with these special needs.

“It is important because when children are diagnosed with these illnesses, the parents do not have access to take them somewhere where they can be properly educated.

And even if there are schools, whether they exist in the private sector or the NGO sector, it is usually too expensive for most parents….So, we have started this classroom with the intention of providing the additional help to these parents, and of course, to the child, who is the main beneficiary”.

As it relates to tackling the issue of youths’ mental health in school, the ministry is preparing for the rollout of a resilience-building training programme.

The programme is being conducted by the International Development and Relief Foundation (IDRF), a Canadian Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), under a larger project to tackle mental health issues in Guyana.

The project, which received CAD $2.9 million in funding, is expected to benefit some 67,750 persons over a five-year period.

“So, they are going to be going into the school system, working with young people in the school. The intention is to reach at least 6,000 children, and what we want to do is train trainers so that these young people, once trained, would be able to train others, and use the techniques offered by this resilience training to be able to do better and not drop out of school, or have these problems relating to mental disorders and so forth,” Dr Anthony expressed.

In addition to working with schools, members of the President’s Youth Council will also receive resilience training, and under a trainers’ programme, receive coaching on how to train others as well.

“Of course, there are other avenues. Because as we strengthen our primary healthcare system, and we train more doctors and healthcare professionals to be able to detect mental health disorders, children who would have, let’s say depression or anxiety, when they come to the health centres, we’ll be able to diagnose them, and once we diagnose them, we will be able to offer treatment, or management.

“So that would be initiated at the primary healthcare level, and if needed, they can be referred up, to the hospital and so forth,” Minister Anthony said.

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