More Psychologists needed in Antigua and Barbuda

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Psychologists are the among the behavioral health professionals greatly needed to meet a growing demand for services in Antigua and Barbuda, according to Dr. Terri-Ann Joseph, Senior House Officer at the Clarevue Psychiatric Hospital.

In her exact words: “In the ministry of health we have no functional psychologists, we have no occupational therapists, so what we want to have is an increase in mental health workers, trained persons in areas of mental health to strengthen the mental health system.”

Joseph told OBSERVER media that more mental health workers are needed should Antigua and Barbuda be desirous of improving the quality of care within the country.

She added that a psychologist is normally understood to be an individual with a PhD in clinical, educational or research psychology, but many only have bachelors and masters degrees.

Although they are effective at the Masters’ level, Dr. Joseph posited, they can be more fruitful at the PhD level, given the extended and in-depth level of training they would have received.

Meantime, Joseph – who is also the national mental health focal point for the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) – remarked that stigma and discrimination against mental health is still an unfortunate reality in the region.

“People tend to think that it’s a religious thing; they have demons or somebody work obeah on them or something to that effect… so there is still much work to do when it comes to trying to target the stigma and discrimination surrounding persons who have mental health disorders,” she said.

Joseph offered a solution to this issue, saying, “If we are really going to tackle the stigma and discrimination, there has to be contact. Persons who suffer with mental health disorders have to be willing to say I have this, but I’m okay; I work, I function, I’m like you, I’m normal.

“The general consensus is that we need to educate people and make people more aware of mental health disorders, and the fact that if you have a mental health disorder you can still function normally, most times, and be productive, “she continued.

Last week, the medical doctor revealed that new mental health policies were being vetted to ensure that patients and their families know their rights and responsibilities.

She remarked that too often people with mental health disorders aren’t allowed to make decisions for themselves. Joseph is hoping that, once completed, the policies will fix that problem.

“We want to establish a patient bill of rights and responsibilities so the patients, care givers and families know their rights and responsibilities and with this bill of rights it should tackle the issue that we have right now where some people with mental health disorders aren’t allowed to make decisions for themselves. The perception is, a lot of the times, that because a person has a mental health issue they aren’t able to make certain decisions for themselves or decide what course he or she wants his or her life to go, and that’s not necessarily true,” Joseph stated.

She said the new draft will also address the abandonment of mentally ill patients at the psychiatric hospital, as well as mental health promotion and prevention of mental health onuses, which include a plan that emphasizes mental health in children and adults.

“If family members understand their responsibilities; the fact that their support really helps in the rehabilitation of these persons, hopefully we will see [fewer] persons being abandoned at the psychiatric hospital and more people being incorporated into the community,” the public health practitioner added.

The revisions were made by the Ministry of Health with support from PAHO, and are being reviewed by a technical team.

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