More persons being trained to detect signs of mental illness

  • as gov’t increases focus on mental health

The Ministry of Health’s Gatekeepers initiative will continue to see persons trained to ensure all primary healthcare workers are able to detect signs and symptoms of mental illness in persons.

The initiative, which was launched last year, saw 150 persons including teachers, civil society members, police officers, and religious and community leaders in Regions Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six being trained.

Minister of Health, Dr Frank Anthony

Minister of Health, Dr Frank Anthony, told reporters during a side interview on Tuesday that the health ministry is using a World Health Organisation (WHO) protocol, the Mental Health Gap Action Programme (MHGAP), to train healthcare workers so that if any person goes to a primary healthcare facility with a mental health issue, first responders will be able to detect the symptoms and assist.

“A lot of times, the doctors or the nurses, they don’t ask about things like depression and so forth. We [tend to be] more focused on physical illnesses. So, we are trying to train people now to ask about these things,” Dr Anthony said.

Gatekeepers are being trained to determine when someone is at risk for suicide, providing knowledge on psychological distress, raising awareness about suicide to reduce stigma and discrimination, providing knowledge about suicide and positive coping skills to individuals at risk, and linking persons at risk of suicide to suitable mental health services in an efficient and coordinated manner.

“We have seen a correlation between people who are depressed and people who might have suicidal thoughts, and them committing suicide. So, if we are able to detect this early, then we can prevent these things from happening. And that’s why it’s so important that everybody be trained to ask these questions, and to detect early so that we can prevent these things from happening,” Minister Anthony explained.

In some cases, the Gatekeepers initiative will work hand-in-hand with government’s telepsychiatry programme, which will see persons in remote areas benefitting from virtual psychiatric services.

MHGAP was developed by the WHO in 2008 to bridge the treatment gap for mental, neurological, and substance-based disorders by providing guidelines and tools to help countries improve their mental health services. It was later revised in 2019.