Nedburn Thaffe, Gleaner Writer
Consultant child psychiatrist at the Bustamante Hospital for Children, Dr Ganesh Shetty, is lamenting what he says is the paucity of specialists within the public health system to deal with children with mental illness.
Shetty, who was addressing a Gleaner Editors' Forum at the newspaper's North Street offices yesterday, said while the country has come a long way in terms of putting in place measures to deal with children with mental illness, a number of them continue to face neglect because of the shortage of experts.
"We have only about eight to 10 persons in the island who are working extensively with children with mental problems," he disclosed.
Shetty said what he has found out is that experts in the private system are usually more open to treat adults as they are the ones usually referred for help when they become disruptive, leading to the high level of neglect of the younger population.
"There are equally large numbers of adults with mental problems. Adults are aggressive, they earn money, they vote, so they get all the attention and the children who are not learning in class and the ones giving trouble in class are just seen as troublemakers," he said.
"In the southeast region where I work, you might have 50,000 children with different types of mental problems such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and so on, and we have only about six persons, including myself, who are working full time with them. Some are social workers, some are psychologists and I am the only child psychiatrist in the government system for the entire southeast region where half of Jamaica resides," he lamented.
He said while he was mindful of the financial constraint facing the Government, it has a responsibility to do whatever it takes to find solutions to cater to these kinds of children.
"The Government will definitely have to advocate, request, pressure, beg to do more for these children and, at the same time, we have to find some creative ways of finding some resources."
In an attempt to further shed light on the extent of the problem, Shetty said during the aftermath of the 2010 west Kingston unrest, he was the only psychiatrist summoned by the Government to go into Tivoli Gardens to identify children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"We screened over 200 children who had post-traumatic stress disorder and I was the only one who could go there. Ninety per cent of children with post-traumatic stress disorder do not come to child guidance clinic. Ninety per cent of them are untreated and unidentified and even the ones who do come, they fill up our books and we are struggling to see them on a regular basis in order to be effective," he said.
In the meantime, special educator and founder of the Adonijah Group of Schools for Intellectual Disabilities, Ruthlyn James, said one of the measures the Government could institute to plug the shortfall is to train more social workers to help identify and treat children suffering from the different types of mental illness.
She added that there was also a need for the Government to train police officers to deal with children who are suffering.
"When they are left untreated and the parents don't know what to do with them, they turn them over to the state and the state will, most times, just keep them there and they will not be offered any therapy," James lamented.