Added to the woes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, is the recent sadness in connection to people with mental illness and have become violent in some cases. There is a list of such cases on record through the years which ended with fatalities and this has prompted us to dissect the situation with the hope that it can be brought under some form of control, and save lives.
In a recent letter to the editor of this newspaper, the Grenada Association of Professional Social Workers (GAPSW) Inc, and the Grenada Human Rights Association (GHRO) Inc, raised concerns regarding psychiatrically ill patients being fatally wounded by the police. The groups said that they recognise the need for the police to execute their duties in protecting the public and themselves. However, when responding to urgent situations and having to make swift decisions on how to react, there needs to be greater awareness of the needs of people with mental health issues.
Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), in reference to an in-depth look at the health system in dealing with illnesses overall said: “The reality is straightforward. The power of existing interventions is not matched by the power of health systems to deliver them to those in greatest need, in a comprehensive way, and on an adequate scale.”
In their letter, GAPSW Inc, and GHRO are calling on the Government to revisit the 2008 draft Mental Health Bill, as there are people living with mental health problems who are likely to not be in receipt of a coordinated service. The need for a more updated mental health legislation to improve the antiquated services that are current, is long overdue. The Government made a commitment to improving mental health services as part of the millennium development goal objective. It is time that mentally ill patients receive a service that acknowledges their rights to be treated with dignity and respect.
Information on-line from Minister Steele states that the government has accepted the fact that HEALTH is much more than the prevention or reduction of disease. It is a resource for national productivity and development. As such, investments in ensuring a healthy population is an asset for national development. The Minister said that it is for this reason the Government re-affirms its strong commitment to providing better health care to all Grenadians. The National Strategic Plan for Health 2016-2025 provides the framework that will guide the efforts of the Ministry of Health and Social Security and its partners over the next 10 years. It reflects the Ministry’s fundamental belief that health is a basic human right and as a result no one should be denied access to health care.
He continued that consequently, one of the overarching goals of this strategic plan is to ensure that health services are made available, accessible and affordable to all people without discrimination. But, he admitted, that like many other developing countries, Grenada continues to be challenged by meeting the demands for health care services to its citizens. To this end, we have set out our major priorities and therefore in concert with the private sector, we will heighten our focus and continue to promote health and wellness among our citizens. Isn’t that very good news?
Now let’s look at treatment for psychiatrically ill patients which is a pet subject for Minister Delma Thomas who is in charge of hospital services. The Mt Gay Psychiatric Hospital has a bed capacity of 80. The temporary relocation of the acute psychiatric unit (Rathdune) from General Hospital to Mt Gay has reduced the bed capacity by 25% which created a problem of overcrowding. In addition, the occupational therapy unit and administration, operate within confined spaces. In a country where drugs and alcohol are readily available, the Drug Rehabilitation Centre (Carlton House) formerly located at Parade, was severely damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and subsequently destroyed by fire in 2005 and was never rebuilt despite continued efforts by the private sector to raise funds. Currently, a day service is provided at Mt Gay; but, research has shown that participation in that program for substance abusers is hindered by fear of stigma and discrimination.
The predominant illness on admission to Mt Gay Hospital is said to be schizophrenia which sparks some fear when one listens to psychologist Dr Panchoo’s explanation of that disease. We have heard of plans for the integration of mental health services into primary health care. There is also word that work is ongoing with the police to improve their management of people with mental health issues. We have also heard of an updated Mental Health Bill which has been drafted to replace the Mental Health Act (1958) and a Mental Health Policy and Strategic Plan is being developed.
So, let’s see how long it will take to end the overcrowding at Mt Gay hospital, the insufficient programmes for substance abuse prevention; the absence of a facility for treatment of substance abuse; lack of specialist staff – occupational therapist, psychologists and other support staff to assist in the rehabilitation of our citizens.
Minister Thomas we urge you to pay more attention to the statistics gathered by the Drug Control Secretariat in the Ministry of Education, Human Resource Development, Information and Religious Affairs; then you will see the true picture.