Shortage of mental health specialists being addressed, says Longmore

GOVERNMENT Senator Dr Saphire Longmore says the Andrew Holness Administration will be seeking to encourage more people to work in the area of mental health as there is a great deficit of these professionals in Jamaica.

“In my capacity [as a psychiatrist] I’m now also working with the [Ministry of Health and Wellness] to try and do something about mental health awareness and advocacy. You will be seeing that effort to increase and attract persons into the careers around mental health of our people, not just our children,” said Longmore while addressing the Senate last Friday.

Longmore said she is particularly concerned about the mental well-being of the nation’s children, citing the latest Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) report which revealed that only eight per cent of the mental health needs of Jamaica’s children are being met.

She insisted, however, that this is not because of lack of effort on the part of the practitioners in mental health services.

“Let me…bring recognition and appreciation to those psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, psychiatric aides, our mental health offices, our public health nurses, who see to the mental health needs of our children. I think they go way above the call of duty to ensure that those services are met,” added Longmore as she argued that one of the great challenges facing Jamaica is that not enough people are seeking careers dealing with the mental health needs of Jamaica’s children.

According to the June 2021 CAPRI report titled Mind the Gap — the inadequacy of mental health services for children, Jamaica is facing a deficit in mental health services for children due to low remuneration and poor working conditions.

“There is only 30 per cent of the requisite clinical staff complement of the principal child mental health service provider, the child guidance clinics, to meet current demand. Given the easy mobility of medical professionals, as long as remuneration for mental health practitioners in Jamaica remains far below the rest of the region and North America the staffing needs of Jamaica’s mental health system will likely never be met,” the report said.

Also outlined in the report are gaps in the governance structure of children’s mental health services, weaknesses in the inter-agency collaboration that would optimise children’s mental health service delivery, inefficient data management, and the lack of adequate resources.

“More resources need to be expended on child mental health in Jamaica. Accessible and affordable mental health services for children provide a preventative system that mitigates risk factors and provides for early diagnosis and treatment,” the report said.

It said catching children before they fall requires far more resources, particularly directed towards expanded services and hiring and training skilled personnel.

“These costs might be substantial but the money saved by treating emotional, psychological, psychiatric, and behaviour problems in early childhood is modest in comparison to the greater long-term costs of serious adult mental illness and/or criminal behaviour and the ill effects those have on the broader society — which exact both an economic and societal cost,” the document said.

In the meantime Longmore said specific activities will be rolled out during May, which is celebrated as Child Month, focused on the Government’s child mental health awareness efforts.

“Starting from the 17th of May you will be seeing more and more initiatives and media presence on themes for observation and tips for parenting and caring for children’s mental health needs. This is going to be on all social media spaces,” said Longmore.

She pointed out that Thursday, May 16 will be dedicated to child and adolescent mental health awareness, pointing out that this will be recognised under the theme, ‘Empowering young minds, creating safe spaces for young people’.

Longmore added that a one-day scientific conference will be held on Thursday, May 25, “which is basically oriented around the child’s brain at work; and this is going to be including persons who are clinical psychologists, consultant psychiatrists, [and] persons from the Ministry of Education and Youth, who are going to be focusing on child and adolescent mental health needs”.