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Guyana joins the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the rest of the world in observing World Mental Health Day on October 10 under the theme: “Making Mental Health & Well-Being for All a Global Priority.”
This annual observance is geared at raising awareness and advocacy against the social stigma attached to mental health and other related illnesses. It also highlights the need for improved and accessible mental health services in our private and public health systems around the world. Mental Health problems exist in our lives and our communities and can impact anyone and everyone.
The Government of Guyana through the Ministry of Health has made great advances to improve and make mental health services more accessible to the people of Guyana in the last two years.
Significant progress has been made thus far with mental health legislation. In July 2022, the Suicide Prevention Bill 2022 was tabled in the National Assembly for the first time. This addresses preventive measures to combat suicide and mental health awareness. This bill also provides for the repeal of the section of the law that criminalises persons who attempt suicide.
In August 2022, the Mental Health Protection and Promotion Act were tabled and passed in the National Assembly thereby replacing the archaic Mental Hospital Ordinance of 1930. This modern legislation aligns with all the major international instruments relating to the rights of people with mental illnesses. This new bill will see the establishment of a Mental Health Board, whose members among others will include a human rights specialist, a user of mental health services and a family member or caregiver of a person with a mental health disorder. The Board will work to ensure the protection of the rights of people with mental health disorders.
Despite their independence from the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Salvation Army and Phoenix Recovery Centre continue to receive funding through government subventions to support their inpatient drug rehabilitation projects.
The MOH continues to expand research in mental health through its current partnership with several international organisations. Among those is a collaboration with Columbia University, Department of Psychiatry geared at examining the risk factors for mental health in Guyana.
We have also commenced another collaboration with a Canadian charitable organisation, International Development and Relief Foundation (IDRF) to address mental health in vulnerable communities. Plans are also ongoing for a partnership with the North Well University and Mount Sinai in several areas including the expansion of the Ministry’s Resident Psychiatry Programme, increasing training in the subspecialties of child and forensic psychiatry and also student exchange programmes for fellowships and observerships.
Apart from these successful partnerships, the ongoing decentralisation of mental health services has seen the establishment of clinics at several regional hospitals and health centres in Regions Two, Three, Four and Five.
There has also been an expansion of psychiatry satellite clinics for adults across all Regions except for Regions Six and Eight while children and adolescent clinics have been established across Regions Three, Four, Five and Six.
The Health Ministry has also established several Mobile Psychiatry Clinics which cater for persons with mental illness, who are unable to go to the hospital to receive medical treatment, and to facilitate admission if necessary. Currently, this encompasses Regions Three, Four and Five, also facilitating the re-integration of discharged patients to their homes. Additionally, Alcohol and Substance Misuse clinics have been established and cater for adults, children and adolescents. The MOH will continue to work towards improving the quality of mental health services throughout Guyana. What has been accomplished so far are indicators of the progress that will continue over the coming years.