Local psychiatrists say time to strengthen mental health research, programmes
The increasing worry about mental and behavioural health issues has prompted health officials to lobby for the expansion of research to discover more ways to treat with the different challenges. (Photo: Pexels)

THE increasing worry about mental and behavioural health issues has prompted health officials to lobby for the expansion of research to discover more ways to treat with the different challenges.

The experts, consultant psychiatrists Dr Wendel Abel and Dr Clayton Sewell, were addressing the State University of New York and University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Health Research Consortium Conference held from March 9 to 10.

Abel, who addressed the mental health priorities in Jamaica, said suicide is an area of interest that we should continue to monitor, although the country has one of the lowest suicide rates in comparison to other countries.

"Our [suicide] rate is about 2.1 per 100,000 and when you look at data compared to other areas, we realise that Jamaica has one of the lowest suicide rates in the world and there are several things that would have contributed to it," he said.

According to Abel, there needs to be an "aggressive" programme implemented to detect suicide ideation at the community level, and training of medical practitioners in the primary care setting to treat depression early and effectively.

"This is an area that warrants more interrogation as to why we have been able to achieve a relatively low suicidal rate, although people argue that countries with high murder rate have low suicidal rate," he said.

Meanwhile, Sewell pointed to the link between mental illness and the epidemic of violence in Jamaica.

He said that while a lot of work has been done through the Violence Prevention Alliance at UWI, which focuses on the cost of violence, there are wider effects that violence has on society.

"One of the things we need to look at is the difference in terms of trauma on children, adults, various persons in the community and to see how that will also contribute to the cycle of violence, so when expanding the research agenda, hopefully we can get to the point where we have a violence database that is readily accessible," said Sewell.

"There is the assumption that mental illness is associated with violence and yes, some mental illnesses are. However, its overall contribution to violence is relatively small compared to the general population and so we want to be able to really attach figures to that and to help to guide the discussion as far as the intervention for the mentally ill — and hopefully to be able to prove that there are interventions that work," he added.

BY BRITTNY HUTCHINSON Observer staff reporter hutchinsonb@jamaicaobserver.com

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