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Published:Sunday | November 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM
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Some community interventions doing more harm than good to persons with mental-health issues, experts warn

Jodi-Ann Gilpin, Gleaner Writer

Consultant psychiatrist and university professor Wendel Abel is warning that persons who are not properly trained are doing more harm than good when they provide care to persons with mental-health issues.

Speaking at a Gleaner Editors' Forum at the newspaper's North Street offices in downtown Kingston last week, Abel charged that based on observation and knowledge, he could state that several persons have been giving psychological advice who are not professionally trained to do so.

"We are aware that there are not enough persons to cater to children and adolescents, but I am concerned, at the same time, with the number of persons practising in the community," said Abel.

"There are several persons out there who are not adequately trained and are providing care, especially in the private sector, and that is cause for concern" added Abel.

He argued that while someone with a mature mind or someone who is willing to listen could provide some counselling, mental-health issues require someone who is able to deal with the many problems and challenges that comes with it.

"Networking and collaboration is what's needed. Therefore, nothing is wrong if counsellors, pastors or peer groups give help; there just needs to be better communication among all the groups.

"Unfortunately, though, it is becoming a popular trend where people are taking on challenges that they are unable to manage," Abel told reporters and editors.

BETTER COMMUNICATION NEEDED

Dr Maureen Irons-Morgan, the director of mental health in the Ministry of Health, shared similar sentiments, saying that there needs to be better communication among stakeholders in catering to persons with emotional stress.

"There is a whole group of persons who can assist, and that is fine, but persons ought to know when to give referrals. What we would want is for people on the ground to educate themselves and know their limit," said Irons-Morgan.

"The Church can provide a major platform in strengthening the services to children and adolescents. A lot of churches have physical plants to do counselling at the community level, and perhaps do early detection, so we would want to see more of that happening.

"The truth is, if you are faced with a suicide attempt in the middle of the night, the average person would not call a professor or a psychologist, so the community persons are needed. What we need is to be more strategic, and everyone needs to play their part."

MONITORING THE PROFESSION

In the meantime, Dr Kai Morgan, acting president of the Jamaican Psychological Society, shared similar concerns as he told The Gleaner that work is under way to better monitor the profession.

According to Morgan, the changes will include sanctions for persons who breach stipulations.

"We have persons who are misrep-resenting the profession, calling themselves doctors and psychologists. We have also had issues where persons are writing assessment report that is substandard, using particular instruments that are not applicable - or not using any instruments at all - to make a diagnosis, which we have been concerned with for the past 10 years," said Morgan.

"That is why we have advocated so hard to license and regulate the profession. I can safely say that discussions are far ahead and we expect, by the end of this year into next year, we will be having a regulated system in place," added Morgan.

jodi-ann.gilpin@gleanerjm.com