Mental Health - and the mentality of the public

OPINION by Yvette Del Agua, Minister of health
The World Health Organisation defines mental health as ?a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community?.

And if we analyse those words carefully, we realise that they contain objectives which the majority of us meet with no difficulty whatsoever. And because these objectives do not pose a challenge for the majority of us, we tend to take them for granted. In so doing, we take mental health for granted.

It is not until we, or someone close to us, falls ill, that we realise the immense suffering that can be caused by mental illness, both to the patient and to those around them. People with mental disorders are too often subjected to social isolation, poor quality of life and increased mortality.

Barriers to effective treatment of mental illness include lack of recognition of the seriousness of mental disease and lack of understanding about the benefits of the services available. Whether we want to admit it or not, policy makers, insurance companies, health providers and the public at large, worldwide, all discriminate between physical and mental problems. In Gibraltar, historically, not enough emphasis has been given to mental health and not enough investment has been made towards it.

I am very pleased to say, however, that this is finally changing. My Government has dedicated the last four years to giving particular focus and emphasis on developing our health services and to meeting the goals set out in the work streams of the health care development team. We now have a magnificent hospital which we can justifiably be proud of.

Just as this Government has taken the bull by the horns in relation to health matters in general, we are also committed to tackle mental health and giving it the priority it deserves within this new term of office.

We have already developed a new Mental Health Strategy to reform mental health in Gibraltar. The GHA is introducing a new model of care which includes less reliance on medication, more psychological therapies and greater access to recreational therapy. To be able to deliver this we have recruited one extra psychologist and 2 extra counsellors, as well as a re-allocation of nursing staff which has allowed the establishment of an Activities Centre in KGV hospital, whose staff, may I take this opportunity to say, carry out excellent work with the patients.

There is now additional leadership with the creation of a new post of Assistant Director of Nursing for Mental Health Services in addition to an extra Psychiatrist and an increase of 4.5 registered mental nurses. By far, the greatest improvements envisaged to our Mental Health Service will be the new, purpose built facility at the Aerial Farm Site and the re-siting of the community mental health centre, as well as expanding mental health services in the primary care centre.

However, the hardest part in all this planned reform is changing the mentality of the public. That is why we all need to create awareness. That is why it is so important for the GHA and Government to work closely and in partnership with NGO?s to promote mental health and to enhance our capacity to combat stigma and reduce the burden of mental disorders.

And that is why Government and the GHA will always lend its support to these conferences and to all NGO?S who give so generously of their time. We all have to chip in, because as so aptly described by the very name of one of these NGO?S, ?TOMORROW IT COULD BE YOU?.