Yes! Mental health services are available in Jamaica
By Dr Wendel Abel
Every day I meet persons who are living with a mental disorder or who have a family member living with a mental disorder. I am too often surprised that many persons are not aware of the services available in Jamaica. Here are some mental health services available here:
1. Free medication
Most drugs for the treatment of mental disorders are available free of cost or at subsidised cost. However, to access the free mediation, one must be registered with the National Health Fund. Have your family doctor or psychiatrist complete the form. It takes about two to three weeks to complete the registration process and to collect your card. You can get the medication free of cost if you are treated at a public hospital or clinic. If the your prescription is written by a private doctor, you will only receive a subsidy on the drugs. The difficulty with the National Health Insurance is that in order to register, you must have a taxpayer registration number (TRN), and some persons with mental illness have difficulty getting a TRN.
2. Free service
Mental-health care is available free of cost at all public hospitals and several clinics. Some persons do not like using the public health services because of long wait times, and many persons I have treated complain that they do not want to be seen going to a mental-health clinic in their community. Everyone with a mental disorder should be encouraged to use these services.
3. Private care
Private mental health care is available. There are several psychiatrists and psychologists who offer private services in the community. If you want more personalised services, if you do not like the long wait and certainly if you want to spend more time with your health care provider you may be advised to use these services. Check the telephone directory for a listing of psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors.
4. Hospital services
Persons with mental disorders are treated in most hospitals in Jamaica. In addition, there is a psychiatric unit at the Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay, St James, and the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston. Services are also offered at the Bellevue Hospital in Kingston. No individual should be denied care in any public facility. Very often, some of these facilities are full. It is important that you demand a high level of service. If you are not happy with the services provided, you may report this to the persons in charge of the hospital, the regional health authority or to the Ministry of Health.
5. Day hospitals
The more specialised hospitals also offer day hospital service. In the day hospital, the client comes to the hospital in the mornings and leaves in the afternoons. If you have a family member who cannot be admitted to hospital or is not too ill, you may ask for that person to be treated in the day hospital.
6. Group homes
In Jamaica, we do have several group homes for the treatment of persons with mental disorders. A group home is a home away from home. Many of these facilities are not as restrictive as the hospital, and persons are treated in a home-like settings. Group homes are used to continue the treatment of persons who have recently left hospitals. There are some persons who require constant supervision but do not have family members living in Jamaica or their family members may simply be burnt out. In these instances, you may want to consider group home placement. All group homes operating in Jamaica are privately run and attract a fee for service.
7. Crisis teams
If you have a family member who refuses to go to the hospital or who may be out of control, you may call your local hospital for the services of the crisis team.
8. Limited social services
Persons with mental illness may receive subsided bus passes and limited social services. In order to access these services, register with the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disability.
The author of this article would be happy to answer any other questions you may have on mental-health services in Jamaica.
Dr Wendel Abel is a consultant psychiatrist and head, Section of Psychiatry, Department of Community Health and Psychiatry, University of the West Indies. Call 977-1108 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.