Update the mental health ordinance

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Dear Editor

Now that “Government has initiated the formal process for the commencement of preparation for Budget 2021” The Caribbean Voice TCV) urges that due consideration be given to mental health, both in terms of adequate budgetary allocation and necessary policies and programs, in order to ensure that Guyana is prepared to address both the mental health crisis arising out of the pandemic and the growing mental health needs within a fast expanding economy.

In this context, there is urgent need to update the 1930s Mental Health Ordinance so that it jells with the latest in mental health advancements and includes technology as an instrument both for diagnosis and treatment. As well, the dragged out renovation of the National Psychiatric Hospital (NPH) needs to be urgently completed and mechanisms put in place to prevent inmates from walking out and wandering into the community, becoming a danger to themselves and others. And we suggest that consideration be given to a mechanism to get all the mentally ill off the streets and into the NPH so they can be helped. In this respect we also suggest that those handling/transporting the mentally ill be provided with basic training to prevent undue roughness and violence as is often the case.

Also, the integration of mental health care within the current health care system, started under the previous PPP/C government has been traveling at a snail’s pace and ought to be speeded up so that basic mental health care becomes accessible for every Guyanese. Within this framework there is a need for clinical counselors in every public health hospital with regular visits to community health centers and schools, although ideally, counselors ought to be placed in all schools. Additionally, all public health hospitals should include psych wards, accessible via prominent signage, so that those in need of help do not have to travel far distances to obtain same, or encounter difficulties in finding the psych ward once they arrive at a hospital.


Meanwhile, TCV appeals to the government to bring back the lay-counselor training program started under former Health Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, and then subsequently ditched with no explanation provided. That program had already been yielding results when it was brought to an end. And it’s needed now more that ever before, especially since it provides scope for a proactive approach to mental health within every community in Guyana.

Another measure that should be put in place is the setting up of protocols to license counselors so that quacks would not be able to run around creating more harm than good. As well, there should be a clear pathway to facilitate mandatory reporting of those needing mental health care so that they would have access to necessary assistance.  Also, mental health parity must be facilitated so that there would be equal treatment of mental health conditions and substance-use disorders in insurance plans and healthcare services, as obtains for physical health care.

TCV also firmly believes that mental health should be included in the government’s Occupational Health & Safety mandate so that businesses across Guyana and all governmental work places, including the army, police and prison and teaching services can incorporate same. Finally, TCV strongly urges that the justice system be mandated to use psychiatric assessments and counseling referrals as needed in a consistent, regular manner rather than selectively.


The Caribbean Voice

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