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Jamaicans who require access to mental health services are being urged to utilise the services, offered by health centres and hospitals closer to their communities, as an alternative to heading straight to a mental health care facility or hospital.
This appeal has come from Acting Director of the Mental Health Services at the Ministry of Health and Environment, Dr. Maureen Irons-Morgan, and forms part of the Ministry’s drive, to push all levels of health care closer to the community.
Speaking at a JIS ‘Think Tank’ Session recently, Dr. Irons-Morgan informed that part of the strategy is to develop the alternatives to mental hospitals at the regional level. “We are moving towards a situation where access is improved to the point where health centres and general hospitals island wide should be able to offer acute psychiatric care, or even continuous psychiatric treatment to those with mental illnesses,” she stated.
While acknowledging that these health facilities may not be able to offer the level of mental health care that hospitals such as Bellevue, the University of the West Indies, the Kingston Public Hospital or the Cornwall Regional Hospital do, she stressed that, the first stop should not be at a hospital. She said that if the service is not yet offered at that facility, the individual will then be given a referral.
Dr. Irons-Morgan said that this drive towards the expansion of mental health care at the community level and the reduction of these at the mental hospital level, began as early as the 1960s. This, she noted, is reflected in the marked decrease in the inpatient population at the Bellevue Hospital, which she informed stood at 750, down from approximately 3,000 in the 1970s.
“Institutionalisation, not only in the mental health services but in other services, is an expensive treatment option. We recognise that there is a minority of persons who, because of the severity of their illness will need to be in a highly supervised environment where they get maximum support; but because of the level of care that we are now able to give with medication and psycho-social support, most persons can now be adequately treated at their homes and in their communities,” she explained.
Dr. Irons-Morgan lauded mental health advocacy groups, such as the Westmoreland Association of Street People and the Clarendon Association for Street People, among others, for the consistent support they have provided to the mentally ill over the years.
She also appealed to Jamaicans, to begin to regard mental health as an important aspect of their overall health care. “It’s about being well and it is an important part of your health and therefore it is everybody’s concern,” she said.
Minister of Health and Environment Rudyard Spencer, also emphasised the importance of proper mental health care in his 2008/09 Sectoral presentation. He noted that mental illnesses cost the health sector US$600 million annually and that some 29 per cent of the 15 to 74 age groups, suffer from a mental disorder.
Mental Health Week is being observed from October 5 to 11. Activities began on October 1 with the Proclamation of October 10, as World Mental Health Day, by Governor-General of Jamaica, His Excellency the Most Hon. Professor Sir Kenneth Hall.