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Professor Ben Thomas

Socio economic pressures including poverty and low levels of education have been recognised as greater risks for individuals and communities dealing with mental illness.

Dr Maryam Richards, Acting Principal Medical Officer Health Ministry, made this comment at an International Mental Health Symposium at Hilton Hotel, St Ann’s, on Wednesday. She also said taboo and discrimination are the greatest challenges in dealing with mental illness, including bipolar disorder (manic depressive disorder). 

Professor Ben Thomas, British Patient Safety Expert Advisor-Mental Health, NHS (London) delivered the keynote address titled “Can There Be Health Without Mental Health-A Global Perspective.” During his workshop, Thomas said while work provides a source of income and a sense of purpose, employees should not make it a habit to be the last one to leave work, while several participants stated bullying in the schools was a big problem, and, it would eventually affect the workplace. 

Thomas also said the lack of integration among stakeholders was preventing proper delivery of healthcare.

Among those present were Director UWI School of Nursing Dr Oscar Ocho, Professor Sally Hardy, Professor of Mental Health Nursing Practice and Innovation London South Bank University (LSBU), Dr Erica Wheeler, PWR, Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), St Augustine Deputy Campus principal Prof Indar Ramnarine, Dean, Faculty of Medical Sciences Terence Seemungal and lecturer UWI School of Nursing Dr Virgina Victor, who delivered the vote of thanks.

Ocho also invited the audience to engage in an introspection on the impact of the pending closure of Petrotrin refinery and its impact on mental health for its employees and the country. Thirty years ago, Wheeler said during her foray into the interior of conflict riddled Indonesia, they found people shackled in chains and tied to blocks, which was deemed “inhumane.”   

Richards: One in four will suffer mental disorder

Richards said: “World Health Organisation (WHO) states one in four people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Treatments are available, but nearly two thirds people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional.

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"Stigma, discrimination and neglect prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental disorders. Rapid social change, stressful work conditions, gender discrimination, social exclusion, unhealthy lifestyle, risks of violence, physical ill health and human rights violations have contributed to poor mental health.”

On the issue of taboo, she said: “Workplaces should establish a workplace policy which addresses the early detection of mental illnesses and thus facilitates early treatment. Such a policy will also help to sensitise and educate staff, and remove taboo that has clouded mental illness.”

MOH mental health plans 

She also identified some of the initiatives which the Health Ministry intends to adopt including decentralisation of mental health care by integrating it into primary care and establishing  services in all Regional Health Authorities (RHAs). Training personnel to deal with mental illness and undertaking of educational initiatives to increase awareness about mental health were other interventions. 

The symposium was held under the theme 'There Is No Health without Mental Health'.

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