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Story Highlights

  • The Ministry of Health is moving to reposition the mental well-being of persons at the forefront of Jamaica’s health care system.
  • This, by making services offered at public medical facilities across the Ministry’s four Regional Health Authorities more easily accessible to persons seeking treatment.
  • Mental illness refers to disorders affecting a person’s mood, thinking, and behaviour. Examples include: depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviours.

The Ministry of Health is moving to reposition the mental well-being of persons at the forefront of Jamaica’s health care system.

This, by making services offered at public medical facilities across the Ministry’s four Regional Health Authorities more easily accessible to persons seeking treatment.

Mental illness refers to disorders affecting a person’s mood, thinking, and behaviour.  Examples include: depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviours.

Consequent on these occurrences, the Government, through the Ministry, spends approximately $1.7 billion annually to ensure the provision of quality treatment and care to persons requiring these interventions.

Jamaica’s programme is also slated to benefit from assistance that the World Health Organization (WHO) will be providing through the Mental Health Global Action Programme (MHGAP), which trains general medical practitioners in the diagnosis and treatment of common mental disorders.

Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services in the Ministry, Dr. Maureen Irons-Morgan, notes that the assistance from WHO will ensure significant provision for interventions across institutions.

“As much as possible, we try to integrate the mental health services into the general health services. So wherever you have general health services, you will find access to mental health services,” she tells JIS News.

Dr. Irons-Morgan adds that the Ministry is also seeking to ensure that general health practitioners within the medical institutions benefit from the training that will be provided under the MHGAP.

The Director notes that a fundamental part of maintaining good mental health relates to the state of the person’s overall well-being.

“It is not just the absence of mental illness…(but also) the (manner)…in which the person is able to manage the normal stresses of life and contribute meaningfully to society,” she explains.

Dr. Irons-Morgan notes that no one is immune to mental illnesses, and points to variables which can trigger this disorder, including social factors as well as hereditary family history.

“We look at mental illness using the bio-psychosocial approach. At the biological level, people may be vulnerable because of genetic factors, for example, or it could be hormonal factors such as (those occurring) after childbirth (where the) woman may experience depression,” she explains.

Dr. Irons-Morgan also highlights psychosocial factors where persons experience psychological distress resulting from stressful situations, such as significant losses, trauma, or abuse, as well as the influence of mind-altering drugs, “that can come together to cause somebody to become mentally ill.”

The Director tells JIS News that her unit facilitates provisions for the treatment, prevention, and rehabilitation of persons with mental health disorders, through a range of programmes.

These can be accessed as inpatient and outpatient  services at public general hospitals and community centres islandwide.

Additionally, several mental health institutions also provide interventions for persons suffering from varying levels of psychological disorders.

Dr. Irons-Morgan says while the majority of persons with mental health disorders will be treated at the community facilities, the nature of the illness is of such that it necessitates inpatient care intervention (for other underlying ailments). Hence, the need to make treatment easily accessible at the institutions where this is provided.

“All the general hospitals across Jamaica will admit persons with mental illness. Sometimes people with mental illness will have other illnesses as well; so it might not be the only thing that they are in hospital for. But the provisions are there to treat people in mental hospitals and in general hospitals as well,” she informs.

Although many persons are affected with mental stress from time to time, the condition becomes a cause for concern when it begins to affect one’s overall ability to function properly.

In most cases, symptoms can be managed with a combination of medications and counselling (psychotherapy).

Dr. Irons-Morgan says consistent with this year’s theme for World Mental Health Day, on October 9, ‘Dignity in Mental Health’, a multi-sector approach is being taken to address the issues affecting persons.

“We will be looking at dignity in mental health in various sectors including education, labour, national security, and justice. We want to explore more adequately the mental health issues in different areas. We want persons to be more aware of mental health issues and the need to treat persons who suffer from mental illnesses with dignity,” she says.

The Ministry is also hosting a conference to commemorate the day at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston.