JIS News

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Jean Dixon, has appealed for support from stakeholders for the Government’s efforts to improve the status of mentally ill Jamaicans.
“We need the assistance from stakeholders in two areas: fostering awareness of the mental well being and tackling stigma, discrimination and inequality; and in empowering and supporting people with mental health problems and their families to be actively engaged in this process,” Dr. Dixon said.
Her appeal was contained in a speech read by Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services in the Ministry, Dr. Maureen Irons Morgan, at the World Mental Health Day symposium, at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, New Kingston, on Friday (October 9).
The Permanent Secretary’s speech noted that, by improving access to mental health services and helping to remove the stigma associated with mental disorders, mental health victims and their families can improve their socioeconomic status. She added that improvements in their status, also contribute to achieving the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs.)
Dr. Dixon noted that a strategy which has been successfully adopted by Jamaica’s health sector, to improve access to mental health care services, is the integration of mental health into primary health care. She pointed out that mental health has been integrated in all four health regions, which have most of the essential mental health components and psychotropic medication.
She also said that exclusive mental health services are provided in all mental health community clinics, and seminars and workshops are conducted in health centres, to sensitise persons about the importance of good mental health and to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental disorders.
“Currently, all Jamaicans have access to free health care in the public system and, as a result, all persons in the population who need psychotropic medication have unrestricted access,” Dr. Dixon informed.
The Permanent Secretary noted, however, that despite this unrestricted access, there are many persons who suffer in silence and are afraid to seek professional help, due to the stigma that is attached to mental health illnesses.
“The general belief is that mental illnesses only affect ‘street people’ and they are ‘mad’. Contrary to this belief, most mental conditions can be treated, as 80 per cent of individuals who receive treatment will get better,” she declared.
However, she pointed out that Jamaica’s mental health status will not be improved, if persons continue to promote the myth, with the end result being that mental health disorders are under-diagnosed.
Wife of the Governor-General, Her Excellency the Most Hon Lady Allen, in a speech read by Regional Psychiatrist at the North East Regional Health Authority (NERHA), Dr. Terrence Bernard, raised concerns in relation to children with undiagnosed mental health problems.
“Often, these children, who are sometimes slower than their peers and display ‘strange’ behaviour, are teased mercilessly at school and become withdrawn even further. In many cases, with the correct diagnosis and medication, these children could be helped,” Lady Allen said.
She added that parents need to be educated to recognise the warning signs of mental illness, and to detect that sometimes a rebellious child may be suffering from a mental condition, and constant physical and verbal abuse is not the answer to the problem.
Lady Allen also agreed with the integration of mental health into primary health care, noting that there were several advantages, including reduced stigma, improved social integration and less disruption of normal life.
She also proposed the establishment of active mental health support groups, to encourage and enable individuals and communities to become more integrally involved in rehabilitation.
Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO)/World Health Organisation (WHO) Representative in Jamaica, Dr. Ernest Pate, pointed out that mental health illnesses in the Americas are on the rise.
He noted that while 114 million people in the region were estimated to have a mental disorder in 1990, it is estimated that there will be 176 million people in the region with mental health illnesses in 2010, which is approximately 20 per cent of the population.
He said that more than half of the people with mental disorders remain unidentified or untreated, and this is despite the declarations that have made by member Governments to implement the 1990 Caracas Declaration, which advocated for the restructuring of mental health care to ensure increased access to mental health services, by bringing people closer to the services.
He noted that if this restructuring is carried out, it will lead to a reduction in both direct and indirect costs associated with treatment as well as: a reduction in the distance between individuals who require the care and the availability of the services; and a reduction in the stigma, discrimination and the risk of human rights violations associated with psychiatric hospital care.
He said that PAHO/WHO welcome the effort by the Government of Jamaica to place mental health high on the national agenda, and encouraged the Ministry of Health to mobilise the necessary resources to implement the 2008/2012 Mental Health Strategic Plan.
World Mental Health Day, will be celebrated on Saturday (October 10) under the theme: ‘Mental Health in Primary Health Care: Enhancing Treatment and Promoting Mental Health’.

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