Wed | Nov 13, 2019

Wellness ministry boosts community mental health care

Published:Sunday | October 13, 2019 | 5:52 AM
The new fleet of mental health buses.
The new fleet of mental health buses.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness last week announced a slew of measures to boost community mental health care.

They include the addition of personnel to community mental health teams, a new fleet of buses and the commissioning of its new Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Helpline, 888 NEW LIFE (639-5433).

“The helpline is to afford persons in need a reliable access point for initial counselling by psychologists and appropriate referrals for follow-up psychological and social support, and for intervention to address mental health crises, including suicidal intent or attempts,” noted Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton.

Tufton was addressing the launch ceremony for the ministry’s new mental health campaign ‘Speak Up, Speak Now’, held on October 10, World Mental Health Day, at the Bellevue Hospital in Kingston.

According to Tufton, the line, which goes live tomorrow, is now more important than ever.

“Approximately one million people globally die each year due to suicide. In Jamaica, the suicide rate is approximately 2.1:100,000 with reported statistics from the Jamaica Constabulary Force showing between 47 and 56 deaths per year due to suicide over the last three years,” he said.

“The Global School-based Survey conducted in Jamaica in 2017 examined children 13 to 17 years old and found that in the previous 12 months, 25 per cent of youngsters had seriously considered suicide and 18 per cent had attempted suicide,” he added.

14 new buses

The 14 newly acquired buses are to serve the four health regions, allowing the opportunity to enhance the face-to-face response capacity of community mental health teams. Of the more than 4,500 mental health crisis calls received islandwide last year, the community mental health team could provide face-to-face response to some 2,500.

“Our efforts to improve service offerings are also evidenced by ongoing measures to increase staff complement in the regions by training different categories of staff for mental health teams,” Tufton revealed.

Five psychiatrists should be graduating next year to enhance the complement in the public system. There are also measures to increase the cadre of psychiatric nurses, who are mental health officers or mental health nurse practitioners.

Of 170 applications for the psychiatric nursing aides course, 108 were eligible to be sitting pre-entrance tests and be subject to psychometric testing by the end of October 2019. The entire process should be completed and training of 35 persons to become psychiatric nursing aides begin in February 2020.

The objective is to achieve psychiatric nursing aide staffing, as identified in the Mental Health and Homelessness Task Force, which is 108 for the south east region, 44 for the west and 44 for southern. In the next year, it is projected that at least 70 psychiatric nursing aides will be trained in 2020.

“The deployment of more buses, together with the increase in staff should improve face-to-face response to mental health crises even as we put mental health in the spotlight with the campaign,” the minister noted.