Child and adolescent mental health to become a priority
Healthcare workers during the training session at the Mental Health Unit. Standing is Director of the Mental Health Unit, Dr. Util Thomas
Healthcare workers during the training session at the Mental Health Unit. Standing is Director of the Mental Health Unit, Dr. Util Thomas

…as health workers trained to educate teachers on identifying conditions

RECOGNISING that there has been limited focus on child and adolescent mental health, the Mental Health Unit of the Ministry of Health has trained health workers to engage teachers across Guyana to recognise these conditions in learners and subsequently, to refer those learners to treatment services.

Last week, 15 health workers from Regions Two, Three, Four, Five, Six and 10 benefitted from intensive training on identifying conditions in children and adolescents at the Mental Health Unit at Quamina Street, Georgetown. These health workers included doctors, psychiatrists, social workers and a health education officer. These regional representatives are now required to train teachers in their respective regions to identify the issues that a child or adolescent may be facing. Teachers, however, would only be trained to recognise conditions and not diagnose children or adolescents.

“Ideally, we would like to train all teachers but there are more than 10,000 teachers and that is going to take forever. That’s why we selected healthcare workers from the regions and they will do the training in the regions,” Director of the Mental Health Unit, Dr. Util Richmond- Thomas told the Sunday Chronicle.

The Director highlighted that she has asked the regional representatives to train at least one group of teachers per month. The unit, she said, would be able to provide funding to support these representatives with the training sessions in their respective regions.

She explained that once teachers are trained to identify the conditions manifested in children and adolescents, they would be able to engage the relevant mental health authorities. This, she affirmed, would allow for timely interventions to help the younger folk. According to the director, the keen focus on mental health is relatively new in Guyana and, as such, more emphasis must be placed on directing a specific or concerted focus on child and adolescent mental health in Guyana.

“Whereas over the decades, we have been having adult psychiatrists who have been taking care of the adults to an extent, there has never been any focus on children and adolescents and they have unique needs,” Dr. Richmond-Thomas explained. She also explained that the presentation of mental health conditions is different in children and adolescents. As such, many times, these conditions go unrecognised and untreated or treated inadequately. Once early interventions are not done, these conditions are left to progress.

To add to the concerted focus on child and adolescent mental health, Guyana secured the services of two child and adolescent psychiatrists in recent times. Dr. Baressa De Clou is one of those two psychiatrists whose work entails the promotion of mental health, prevention of mental illnesses and the treatment and rehabilitation of patients of the child and adolescent population with mental illnesses.

She was part of the training organised by the Mental Health Unit and in an invited comment, she emphasised that there are nuances to working with children. According to her, there is a wide spectrum of mental health illnesses associated when dealing with children. These include developmental disorders, and behavioural disorders, eating and sleeping disorders, among others. Additionally, when treating children and adolescents, the mental health workers are also working alongside the family.

Through the task of providing services to this vulnerable group of younger persons, Dr. De Clou noted that there are significant challenges faced in her line of work. Aside from the evident shortage of children and adolescent psychiatrists, she said there is a need for more clinical and educational psychologists, nurses and social workers.

Additionally, the local infrastructure does not yet adequately cater for providing services to this target group. Dr. De Clou does not have her own working area but instead, she works out of the psychiatric department at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC).

“We would like to have an observational section and separate areas for child and adolescent psychologists to conduct the standardised tests specific to children and adolescents,” she said.

Dr. Richmond-Thomas acknowledged that the work in the area of child and adolescent mental health is nascent, but she emphasised that the unit will be lobbying the central body of the Ministry of Health for an increased focus in this regard.

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