Health Ministry to Boost Mental Health Services

The Ministry of Health is, by the end of the month, to establish its new toll free Mental Health/Suicide Prevention Hotline, as part of efforts to shore up mental health services for Jamaicans.

Globally, close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year. For every suicide, there are many more people who attempt it. Further, suicide has been found to be the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds,” said Minister of Health, Dr. Christopher Tufton.

“This is not something to which we can turn a blind eye. We are, therefore, partnering with a local NGO to make this toll free hotline a reality to ensure that our people have an option to receive the help that they need,” he added.

The Ministry is not stopping with the toll-free hotline. It is also progressing with its efforts to transition an increasing number of Jamaicans living with mental illness from institutional care into community care for the treatment and rehabilitation.

“Properly organised community-based services are widely regarded as the best approach for providing mental health treatment and care in comparison to long-stay psychiatric institutions, which can use a large portion of a country’s mental health budget to treat relatively few clients and, in some instances, under less than satisfactory conditions,” noted Tufton.

At the Bellevue Hospital in Jamaica, there are currently some 667 patients, 450 of them ready to be discharged and returned to their communities. The Ministry is keen to have them reunited with their families.

“The Ministry of Health, having readied these persons for reintegration, needs the help of their families and community members to return them home. We will not leave families on their own to do this,” the Minister said.

The Ministry is increasing the staff complement for community mental health workers to ensure, among other things, timely and effective home visits with persons who default from treatment. The intention is to reduce the number of emergencies and crisis calls once people are out of institutional care.

Improved staffing of community mental health teams also helps to safeguard a more effective response to those persons having an acute episode of mental illness that families may be unable to manage.

Already, 30 psychiatric nursing aides have been trained in the western region, with 32 currently in training in the south east region and another 15 set for training in the north east.

“We are talking numbers not only in terms of personnel but also transportation for those professionals,” Tufton revealed, adding that the Ministry is also in the process of procuring 10 new buses that are to serve the psychiatric outreach teams islandwide.