Director of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) Dr Jarbas Barbosa wants to see the Caribbean place more emphasis on the mental health problems that many of its citizens are living with.
He said this was particularly important coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic when there was a significant rise in mental health issues.
“We had a very [significant] increase in anxiety, in depression, in the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs, so this clearly changed the situation. I think that since the pandemic, I think that there is no meeting that I had with a Minister [of Health], and they don’t mention mental health as a priority,” the PAHO official told media personnel at a press conference on Tuesday.
“[PAHO] last year launched a high-level commission on mental health and they released a final report two days ago in Washington. We estimate that 20 per cent – one out of every five – adults in this region have some mental health issues. We are talking about a thing that is very prevalent, so we’ll need to change the way that we used to provide mental health services.”
The commission’s report, A New Agenda for Mental Health in the Region of the Americas, provides countries with ten recommendations to improve mental health care: elevate mental health at the national and supranational levels; integrate mental health into all policies; increase the quantity and improve the quality of financing for mental health; ensure the human rights of people living with mental health conditions; promote and protect mental health across the life course; improve and expand community-based mental health services and care; strengthen suicide prevention; adopt a gender transformative approach to mental health; address racism and racial discrimination as a key determinant of mental health; and improve mental health data and research.
Dr Barbosa suggested that the handling of mental health issues must move away from the “very institutionalised response in hospitals”.
“We need to have communities engaged on this, we need to reduce the stigma and discrimination because some families don’t want to go and ask for help because they fear the discrimination and the stigma,” he said.
“We need to strengthen primary healthcare because most problems that we have with mental health now, new drugs and treatments can be provided in primary healthcare facilities.”
Dr Barbosa promised that regional bodies will have the full backing and technical support of PAHO to address these issues.
Speaking later in the evening at the opening ceremony of the Ministerial Conference on NCDs and Mental Health at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus called the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and mental health conditions in small island developing states (SIDS) a “crisis” that requires immediate attention.
Speaking specifically about mental health issues, he said those conditions were on the rise, “affecting the well-being and prosperity of individuals, families, and communities across these nations”.
“We cannot afford to ignore this crisis. It is our moral imperative to act swiftly and decisively, and to leave no one behind,” he told Ministers of Health and delegates from the Caribbean and Pacific nations participating in the consultation. (SB)