Proactively addressing mental health

─ over 300 medical, other professionals trained

─ additional 30 headteachers trained to identify, refer mental health cases

─ Mental Health awareness taken to schools

DPI, Guyana, Monday, October 14, 2019

The Ministry of Public Health’s Mental Health Unit is mandated to contribute to the overall effort of promoting good mental health. This is being achieved through promotion, coordination and implementation of activities and actions directed towards strengthening the national capacity. This, in turn, will result in the reduction of the burden of psychiatric diseases, prevention of disabilities, and the development of rehabilitation.

The Health Education Officer of the Mental Health Unit, of the Ministry of Public Health, Tashia James.

To date, the unit has begun intense training in the Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) where a total of 300 doctors, nurses, social workers and staff have been engaged for the year 2019. Further, 30 headteachers of Region 4 school have been trained to identify such cases in that particular setting. This is to decentralise mental health services, making it available in all regions and communities to all persons.

Speaking with Tashia James, Health Education Officer attached to the Mental Health Unit, the Department of Public Information (DPI) learnt how this is being done.

According to James, a person who is suspected to be suffering from a mental illness can be taken to a health centre for primary intervention after which they can be referred for monitoring.

The service is being decentralised at the main institutions – the Georgetown Public Hospital and the unit in Quamina Street, however, there’s a challenge. “Persons don’t want to come to the mental health unit because of the stigma currently attached to mental health, so we are getting around that by ensuring that this service is available at community health facilities,” James explained

While this is ongoing, James explained that school children will also be engaged to learn how they can prevent possible mental illness. “I use the Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) period of the timetable in schools and we would teach them about drugs, substance misuse, the dangers of using drugs and ways in which they prevent it. They are also taught coping skills, refusal skills as a prevention method.”

The Health Education Officer noted, based on previous interactions with students, it was found that there are some who use illicit drugs. This is where the training of the Headteachers becomes important. “We refer them right here at mental health unit or the GPHC and they are treated accordingly… They (Headteachers] can identify when a student in their school is affected by mental illness and they can refer the student to a health centre or the hospital.”

James said that the plan is to train another 30 plus headteachers and to include classroom, and form teachers for this particular measure to be more effective. Added to this, James said the Mental Unit’s work goes beyond engaging schools and health professionals.

“We work with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and with this, persons are becoming more aware of mental illness… We are getting more requests and we are going to be doing some work with a local church in Georgetown. We find that the responses now are more encouraging.”

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