Editorial

Dealing effectively with mental health

Friday, October 19, 2012    

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We look forward to the Pan American Health Organisation's (PAHO's) assessment of mental health systems in the Caribbean and Latin America after this week's regional mental health conference in Panama.

For recent events, particularly in Jamaica, suggest that there is a great need for improved mental health support systems aimed at reducing the incidence of this disorder among our people.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has told us that depression affects more people than any other mental disorder and is one of the world's leading causes of disability.

One of the concerns we have about this issue is the WHO's report that six of every 10 people who suffer from depression in Latin America and the Caribbean do not seek or do not receive the treatment they need, despite the fact that depression is a treatable disease.

The WHO has also disclosed that the disorder affects more than 350 million people of all ages around the world, with five per cent of the adult population in Latin America and the Caribbean being affected.

"This is a disorder that can strike anyone at some point in their life, and for which they need to receive psychological and social care and support," the PAHO/WHO principal adviser on mental health, Mr Jorge Rodriguez, was reported as saying last week.

"In addition to influencing the ill person, depression also affects their family and community around them," Mr Rodriquez correctly pointed out. "In the worst cases, it can lead to suicide. Each year, almost one million people kill themselves in the world, of which around 63,000 are in the Americas. In human terms, it represents suffering and in economic terms it involves considerable costs to families and to governments."

This is data that is most frightening and should give us all cause for great concern. It is against that background that the Global Plan of Action on Mental Health that will be presented at the World Health Assembly in 2013 is of utmost importance.

For as it now stands, between 60 per cent and 65 per cent of people affected by depression do not receive care. Those individuals, according to the WHO, cite the lack of appropriate services and trained health professionals, especially in primary care, and the social stigma associated with mental disorders as some of the barriers to accessing appropriate care.

We acknowledge that here in Jamaica we have very skilled mental health professionals who do a good job of treating persons with disorders. Those professionals, however, will need more resources and support if they are to continue providing effective service, especially in today's Jamaica where we are seeing some of the most horrendous violent crimes being committed. And this can only get worse if the economy remains stagnant.

Increased public education about the disease is also necessary, as not everyone is aware — as Mr Rodriquez pointed out — that "mild, and even some moderate cases, can be resolved, basically, with social and family support, brief psychotherapy, or other types of psychosocial interventions that can be provided by primary health care physicians or by [the] community".

In fact, as the WHO has made clear, not all cases of depression need to be treated with pharmaceuticals.

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