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JIS News

Story Highlights

  • The improvement is due to the development of the community mental health support services.
  • With the advent of the community services, there was a shift in the main function of the hospital.
  • A competent team of psychiatric aids caters to the needs of mentally ill patients in the region.

Head of the Kingston and St. Andrew Mental Health Services (KSAMHS), Dr. Geoffrey Walcott, is reporting an improvement in the response and attitudes of Jamaicans toward mental health issues, largely due to the development of the community mental health support services.

These services, which are being provided by a dedicated team of psychiatric professionals and aides, have been offered since the 1970s. Prior to then, all persons with a mental illness in Jamaica were treated at the Bellevue Hospital in Kingston.

With the advent of the community services, there was a shift in the main function of the hospital, to cater to patients within the geographic locations of St. Catherine, Kingston and St. Andrew.

“The remainder of the country developed their own services including services for acute treatment, which includes admission and crisis services,” Dr. Walcott explained to JIS News.

Highlighting the work of the KSAMHS, Dr. Walcott informed that a competent team of psychiatric aids, mental health nurses trained at various levels, nurse practitioners, psychiatrists and mental health officers, caters to the needs of mentally ill patients in the region.

The patients are reviewed and treated by the KSAMHS team at three service areas – health centres, mobile units and there is a crisis response team that deals with acute cases.

Dr. Walcott explained that the health centres are where persons are admitted for treatment, while the mobile units visit the homes of persons, who are unable to attend the clinics due to location, social support, or state of illness.

The crisis response team attends to emergency cases in which persons are causing harm to themselves or others.

In 2012, the crisis response team attended to more than 1,117 patients, who were treated and stabilised in their home. This is more than the 995 patients admitted at Bellevue over the period.

Dr. Walcott said that more than half of the patients are doing fairly well. “Occasionally patients lapse, which is part of the illness, however we have the capacity to treat them,” he said.

Dr. Walcott also pointed to the value of health promotions in fostering a positive attitude towards mental health. He said that not only do these help to decrease stigma, but engage persons in assisting family members or neighbours, or in seeking help for their own mental health issues.

“Promotional activities are important as we are not only seeking to treat mental illness, but also to prevent it. Part of our strategy is to get persons to recognise some of the symptoms and how to maintain a mentally healthy environment as well as relationships,” Dr. Walcott told JIS News.

Jamaica will join the rest of the world in marking Mental Health Week from October 4 to 12.

Dr. Walcott informed that last year, there were 368 health promotional activities in clinics and communities in Kingston and St. Andrew during mental health week.

Families and relatives of mentally ill persons are encouraged to call the Crisis Unit for assistance at 930-1152.