While there is still a significant amount of stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness in Barbados, the services of the Psychiatric Hospital continue to be in demand.
Hospital Director, Tennyson Springer revealed this recently, when that institution held an Open Day as part of its activities to mark World Mental Health Day, which was celebrated on October 10.
The Director said: "The public has been improving in its reception of the services offered by the Psychiatric Hospital. We have reached a stage now where people actually call and request services and there was a time when we would not get this kind of response from the public and now we are actually having organisations calling us and asking us to do talks on mental health."
A lot of the goodwill shown towards the institution he credited to the programme on community mental health, which was bolstered recently by an increase in the number of nurses assigned to it. "There are now 16 nurses, increased from 11 and they are covering the entire island, with smaller catchment areas and this is making it a lot easier to get the message [on mental health] out," Mr. Springer explained.
Acknowledging that the community mental health nurse played an integral role in reaching the youth, he noted that they were mandated to adopt schools in their respective areas and were responsible for meeting with the principals. He further added that these resource persons were involved in spreading the mental health message throughout the schools and encouraging principals and their staff to access the services of the hospital, among these, the Child Guidance Clinic.
"A number of people in the school system need at least some early intervention/assessment to make life easier for the students and the teachers who are working with them on a daily basis," Mr. Springer maintained.
Meanwhile, the Director pointed out that while the number of mentally ill was on the rise, especially among young males with drug addiction problems, there was a decrease overall in the number of persons resident in the hospital at Black Rock.
He stated: "From about 10 years ago, we were up to 620 persons; we’re down to 535 now and this is really due to the impact of the community mental health services on the mentally ill in Barbados.
"And, we are hoping that with the increase of nurses in the community, we can drive this number down further where people can receive care in the community, their homes, [the] nearest polyclinics and still keep their jobs and remain active in the
community. It doesn’t mean that the number of mentally ill people is necessarily decreasing, but that we are keeping more people out of hospital."
While alluding to the elderly who are sometimes abandoned at the facility, he observed it was expected that with the success of the community mental health programme, more of these seniors would be treated at home. "We hope we wouldn’t have to take people out of their homes; for one of the drawbacks of having people institutionalised is that their families, once they seem comfortable within an institution, lose touch with them after a while."