Sat | Dec 10, 2016

Children with mental issues need more help

Published:Tuesday | December 2, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Psychiatrists appeal to business community

Nadine Wilson-Harris, Staff Reporter

DESPITE ONLY one full-time child psychiatrist in the government service, director of child and adolescent health at the Ministry of Health Dr Judith Leiba-Thomas is confident that measures are in place to ensure that children with mental health conditions are not deprived of treatment.

The one full-time government child psychiatrist who serves patients in the Kingston metropolitan region is supported by four other psychiatrists specialising in the mental health of children, serving various sections of the island.

"There is one full time in the government service, one full time at the University (Hospital of the West Indies), and then the others work part time at the clinics. Unfortunately, a lot of them are concentrated in the Kingston and St Andrew area," Leiba-Thomas told a Gleaner Editors' Forum at the newspaper's North Street headquarters recently.

"There is a shortage of child adolescent psychiatrists and it's not just in Jamaica."

She said other resource persons such as general psychiatrists, social workers, and child and adolescent nurses are being utilised to fill the gap.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Wendell Abel, speaking at the forum, said the country has not been able to attract more child and adolescent psychiatrists as an individual would have to study for 12 years to achieve such a status.

"After the 12 years, your income probably may fall comparatively, and I have heard that from persons who practise. In countries worldwide because of the high burnout rate, people drop out of the discipline after about 10 years of practising," Abel said.

Given the demand for child and adolescent psychiatric care, the consultant psychiatrist made an appeal for corporate Jamaica to invest more in this area.

"We notice a lot of the foundations and financial institutions have done an excellent job in supporting a lot of educational programmes," Abel pointed out.

"We need to ensure that funding goes into the psychological programmes because a lot of the children with educational problems have psychological behavioural problems and we are missing the boat," he asserted.

With Jamaica's inability to attract specialised psychiatrists, Abel argues that there is a need to strengthen the access to services for children with mental health challenges.

Huge gap exists

"When you look at the service spectrum, this is probably where the greatest gap exists, and, it's not that the necessary investment has not been made, but it's just that because of the shift in our population, the demand for mental health services for children and adolescent is great, and repeatedly, over the years, we have identified this as an area that needs to be addressed," he said.

Abel noted that while Jamaica has made efforts such as having a director of mental health service for children and adolescents to address the issue, there is more to be done.

"Unfortunately, we don't have adequate services distributed across the island, and there are some areas of the island that are clearly underserved, especially the rural areas," he said.

"There needs to be more services that will screen and detect problems earlier, especially academic problems in young children. That's an area of great need ... more testing services for your children with academic problems," he pointed out.

However, based on estimates from mental health professionals, ideally, Jamaica should have two specialised psychiatrist in the Kingston metropolitan region and one in each of the other regions.