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T&T heading for major mental health problems

Deyalsingh calls for action as...
Published: 
Sunday, September 28, 2014

St Ann’s Mental Institute should not be closed down or sold. This was the view of Secretary of the Association of Psychiatrists of T&T Dr Varma Deyalsingh, who is calling for the institution to be completely refurbished. Two years ago, Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan had said that St Ann’s should be sold since it would cost too much to refurbish. He had also said then, that approximately 65 per cent of in-patients at the hospital were not supposed to be there.  

In an interview with the Sunday Guardian, Deyalsingh said the facility needs to remain open as T&T would experience a massive increase in mental health conditions within the next few years. The World Health Organisation (WHO), he said, had projected a massive increase in depression by 2020, as well as T&T’s increased ageing population would see a rise in conditions such as dementia, among others.

Deyalsingh said there was also an increase in drug-induced psychosis among the youths of T&T. He said proper mental health provisions and mechanisms should be put in place. He said the State’s inability to effectively fight the drug problem in the country placed an additional strain on mental health personnel. More social workers, Deyalsingh said, were needed to “go into every home and every community, go in every nook and cranny to deal with some of these matters.”

He said while more mental health officers were needed in the system, there were those who had completed the required programme of study two years ago but were still awaiting approval to begin work. Deyalsingh also said some mental health workers needed to take pride in their work and adopt a new work ethic. 

Deyalsingh also called for the setting up and implementation of a Patients Complaint Authority, through which complaints made against staff and other members of the country’s health institutions could be addressed. 

He lamented that many times politics got in the way of real solutions that could address some of the problems faced by the socially displaced and mentally ill in T&T. He recalled a meeting held with former minister of the People Dr Glenn Ramadarsingh and former Port-of-Spain mayor Louis Lee Sing in which suggestions were made to address the issue of street dwelling in the country’s capital.

Khan: New bill being drafted Deyalsingh said the suggestions were not adopted, however, because they were offered by Lee Sing who sat on the opposite side of the political fence. 

Deyalsingh said the true test of whether a Government had performed could be measured by how it treated its most vulnerable such as the socially displaced and mentally ill members of society. He said the Psychiatric Association was willing to meet with Minister Vasant Barath, who was appointed in July as the head of a committee to address the problems plaguing the health sector, to discuss mental health and other issues affecting the country.

Khan: New bill being drafted 
Meanwhile, Khan described St Ann's as a "Government subsidised massive old folks home." He said, "At St Ann's, 60 to 80 per cent of people don't need to be there. People are living at St Ann's. It has become an old folks home." Khan said he was thinking of opening wards and clinics at various health institutions throughout the country but needed the medical personnel to do so.

The Health Minister indicated that as the People's Partnership’s term in office comes to a close, mental health has been put on the front burner. Khan’s intention, he said, was to introduce a new mental health bill. He said the bill was in the process of being drafted, but he stressed that it was important for people to start taking responsibility for what had been happening at the institution.

Asked about reports received by the Sunday Guardian of an inadequate supply of medication for patients and the lack of an adequate water supply to meet the institution's demands, Khan said such problems were unavoidable since there was a larger volume of patients at the institution. 

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